Friday, March 29, 2013

Here are some good references for abandoned places

Although it's only a couple years old, this town abandoned as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident shows how things can be when they're suddenly abandoned. Stores still full of merchandise, vending machines stocked, but other things (like buildings) damaged or falling apart. Imagine what this place would be like if it were left alone for 30-50 years.

Also, a quick update: more Tribe 8 content is coming, and once I get past a couple milestones in working on Apotheosis Drive Exodus I will be returning to the Fate Core conversion. Also, I will be reviewing the Spark  rpg on Aggregate Cognizance in the next week with an eye toward adapting Tribe 8 to that as well.

Flashback Friday: Elfquest

Elfquest is something of an odd-duck for me.

What makes it so is there are a lot of mature topics and situations in Elfquest that utterly went over my head at the time. I didn't actually realize they were there until I went back and looked over some Elfquest stuff a few years ago after hearing about the possibility of a movie. To be fair, there were a lot of books and whatnot with mature themes I glossed over at that age. I had exhausted the children's section in the library by the time I was 10 and moved on to the science fiction in the adult section. I skipped over large parts in many books that were boring because I didn't quite understand or I was kind of weirded out.

I first read the Elfquest graphic novel at a Waldenbooks, probably in the 7th or 8th grade. A couple of years later I noticed the Elfquest boxed set at the local hobby shop and bought it. It was not my first encounter with Chaosium's Basic Role-playing system - the library had a smattering of roleplaying books and one of those was Runequest 1st edition, which I had checked out several times. That same Waldenbooks also had the boxed set for Runequest 2nd edition at some point, but I never bought it for some reason.

Anyway, Elfquest was pretty much standard BRP as far as resolution mechanics, stats, skills etc. The rules, examples and setting material were supported by generous use of panels from the Elfquest comics. The magic was customized for the setting, drawing from abilities seen in the Elfquest world - I don't remember all of them, but I do remember the Sending ability. On top of that, there were a lot of sample characters, including write-ups for almost every one of the original Elfquest characters. There were also descriptions of various other elf tribes (some of which didn't exist in the comics, and may never have existed), write-ups for various creatures, and some example scenarios. There was even a companion book with expanded rules and scenarios, and a sourcebook for Sea Elves. From what I understand, some of the material in the RPG was contradicted by later developments in the Elfquest comics, but I had long stopped following the series by that point.

My players hated this guy
The game was a radical departure from conventional D&D-style fantasy for me, and we played it for quite a while before moving on to other games. I staked out an area on the map of the World of Two Moons, created my version of The Holt and had the players roll up Wolfriders. Not having the standard fare of cities, towns, taverns, dungeons, etc. was challenging, but I remember we did all right. Most of the players had a good time with just roleplaying interactions between the characters, hunting for food, tricking humans and running from trolls. Having access to the Runequest hardback at the library I copied a lot of things out of it (usually by hand), and I want to say that the Broo made in an appearance in the game at some point. I have fond memories of tracing over and filling in the character outlines that came on the various character sheets. It was a good time, and while I'm sure the mechanics are probably a bit dated I'm sure for an Elfquest fan it would be a fantastic game.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Apotheosis Drive Exodus Design: Thinking big

I've been working on my Apotheosis Drive X setting. This is in preparation for the possibility the Kickstarter funds high enough for my setting to be "unlocked". It's also because I've become invested in it to the degree that I want to see it completed regardless of whether it is included in the anthology or not. However, I'm facing a challenge I willingly took on when I envisioned it: scope. The "bad guys", the ships, the amount of energy being thrown around, and the spans of time involved are enormous. It gets extremely difficult to relate to in any meaningful way.

Some games have tackled scales this large. One of them was Dream Pod 9's Core Command, and its solution was simply scaling things up. A starship that could be any "normal" scaled ship in another setting is just stated as being 100km long. Personal weapons do insane amounts of damage and can blow up ships, ships can blow up planets, etc., etc. At first I thought something like this could work, especially with the Fate Fractal. Create everything as a character and then apply scaling. In this way, everything from solar system-spanning battles down to mecha-on-mecha action could take place.

This approach presents a couple of problems. First, the relative scales make these elements seem less epic. At the same time, the larger scales become nearly as meaningless as no scale at all once they go beyond "system" to "galaxy" or larger. Second, scaling down the obstacles still doesn't create a sense of overall accomplishment. A battle that saves an entire solar system and millions of lives is just one of hundreds of billions of battles that would need to be won. All we've done is trade one incomprehensible situation for another.

I'm leaning toward a handful of related approaches. Two of them are inspired by posts by Michael Moceri on the Fate Core Community. First, instead of having  pieces of the Engine (the universe-spanning threat in the setting) at different scales it is simply an omnipresent threat. It will have an Aspect or two that can be invoked or compelled anywhere at any time, and a Skill that likewise can be used to create obstacles, advantages or attacks relevant to its nature. Second is the idea of having a campaign stress track of sorts. This tracks the changes to the nature of the universe as the Engine wins or loses ground. As the players succeed or fail at trying to defeat the Engine, the stress track moves forward or backward. At specific points, campaign aspects can change, increase or decrease in scope, etc.

Of course, this doesn't change the other elephant in the room: a story arc representing only a relatively small slice of time can't result in impactful changes. These are events that unfold over tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. None of the original characters will be around to see the end. Luckily I think I might have some solutions that will satisfy conveying the impression of the vastness in scope of humanity's struggle.

The first solution is to make the arcs within the game take place during different epochs. Each one focuses on pivotal events in humanity's struggle against the Engine, starting with the discovery of the mecha (called Jotun). In this way, the story can jump thousands of years or more. The events of the previous arc change the atmosphere, tone and specifics of the current one. Arkships change, societies change, galaxy-wide calamities occur. If I posit that the Jotun are pretty much "immortal", individual Jotun could be a link between these arcs. The pilots change, but the mecha continue to grow and get upgraded.

The second solution takes this a step further and draws down on some hard science. Because for all intents and purposes, FTL travel is time travelEven if space folds incorporate a special frame of reference to work, relativity and causality are still considerations because not everyone is in the same frame of reference.  This means that the player characters, along with their ship, can fold through the entirety of the multi-million year war against the Engine. They can observe the effects of battles that haven't happened yet, and participate in events that from their perspective already have. Distant descendants may actually originate from the character's past. With this setup, chronology of events has nothing to do with when they took place in regard to the greater universe, but the order they took place from the character's point of view.

That, my friends, is thinking big.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I would like to thank Mykal Lakim

The Apotheosis Drive X Kickstarter has funded, and with that is a step closer to including my setting submission for the anthology. If you missed it, the synopsis of my setting is in this post. Even if it's only a few thousand words, it's a crucial step for me in a number of ways. If you haven't backed Apotheosis Drive X - do it! Now. Especially if you want to see universe-kicking mecha. Without vampires.

Since becoming a database developer, I've learned the only way to stop being afraid of challenges is to take them on. When someone asks if I can handle a task, I swallow any self-doubt and step up. Sometimes it doesn't work out so well, but I learn and move on. Twelve years ago things were different. I was with UPS and had been for years. I doubted whether I could do anything else. Friends told me I should go into IT, but I always had an excuse. I don't know where to start. I have seniority at UPS. I have a family, we can't afford the risk. I like playing with my computer, I don't want it to be a job. Then on 9/11/2001, I left work at UPS for the last time (the timing was a coincidence, but an apt  one). I had no choice but to challenge myself, and the only thing I could think to do in order to support my family was go into IT. It was difficult and challenging, but I've succeeded far more than I ever imagined.

But I hadn't done anything with trying to get back into my gaming roots and love of writing, at least prior to December 2012. Sure, I've maintained some blogs such as Dreams of Flesh and Spirit, but that was "for fun" with no hope of it turning into anything other than fan work. Year before last I made a stab at NanoWriMo (and actually, this blog used to have the daily entries for that effort - I still have them, they've just been put back in draft mode). A very long time ago I wrote a draft pitch for Word of the Keepers for Tribe 8, but I never got the courage to submit it (subsequently it's been lost, and I always kick myself over that). I have had some other offers to co-author projects, but I always turned them down with one excuse or the other...the same excuses I used to avoid challenging myself in my career.

Now that I've been writing regularly, my confidence has increased. I've found the same willingness to take on challenges that I have in my career. So when I saw David Hill from Machine Age Productions put out a call for setting pitches for ADX, I threw something together and sent it in. I was delighted when I got a positive response back.

So how does Mykal Lakim/Paul Cape fit into all of this? Aside from giving me some fun things to blog about, if he or one of his sockpuppets hadn't tried to pull David Hill into his celebration of stupid I would never have circled David on Google+. I probably wouldn't have seen David's call for submissions, or at least seen it too late. I also might not have had the courage to type out a paragraph for a setting pitch and hit "Send". So many thanks to Mr. Cape - when he tried to rope me into some game publishing conspiracy he likely never expected he'd have this effect. I just hope he doesn't let this go to his head.
Also, I'm totally kidding. The only person responsible for my newfound confidence toward game writing is me.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Flashback, close enough: Space/Time

Last week got a little muddled, so I missed the Friday update. So here it is now.

This week's entry is a game from BTRC called SpaceTime. I played a fairly long campaign with it that started before I went into USMC boot camp in 1989 and picked back up after I was medically discharged for a knee injury later that same year.

He's going for his piece because the Fashion Police are coming for him.
SpaceTime used the TimeLords system and not BTRC's later system CORPS. I remember the game used a d20, and rolls were cross-indexed with a table that applied any modifiers on a sliding scale. For example, a -5 modifier compared to a roll of 10 would somehow scale to make it proportional. The setting reminded me of Voice of the Whirlwind. It had a cyberpunk aesthetic but highly advanced technology (but not quite transhumanist because that wasn't quite a thing yet). There was interstellar travel, an alien race, colonies on other planets, etc. I remember liking the cybernetics rules quite a bit. We wound up cribbing a lot of things from I.C.E.'s Cyberspace for the game, which was at a similar tech level to SpaceTime.

The large majority of the time spent playing SpaceTime was with a guy named John, who ran the game. John was the worst gamer stereotype - overweight, greasy black hair, loud, poor social skills, wore a trenchcoat. I think I was one of his only friends. At the time, I worked at Chuck E. Cheese as a technician and sometimes John would drop in before or after work. We would play right there in the restaurant because the place was mostly dead during the week. Unrelated to the gaming but related to Chuck E. Cheese, I worked with John Wick's younger brother there for a while, and Rick James came in once for a birthday party.

I just like the cake, bitch!
Anyway, my character was named Carissa and had been involuntarily modified to be a vampire. She had a thirst for blood, retractable fangs, aversion to sunlight, reflexes, you name it. Yes, it was incredibly cheesy, but I was all of 19 and had a huge thing for the goth chicks. I even had a picture of the character drawn by Gloria Yuh (an early VtM artist) when she was doing the character portrait rounds at the local conventions . I essentially shoved a photograph of my girlfriend at the time at her, gave Gloria some details for how the character should look, and she took it from there. I so wanted to include the drawing in this post because I was sure I still had it, but I couldn't find it.

We played through an extremely long story arc revolving around discovering how my character got the way she was, some technology the megacorporations were trying to perfect based on alien technology, the idea of real vampires  being aliens, and getting revenge on the people who had screwed up my character's life. We had a decent amount of fun with it, and it was one of the few times since I've started gaming that I was a long-term player instead of GM.

The game ended due to a variety of factors. I had moved out from my parents house where I had been staying after I got discharged. Shortly thereafter I turned 21 and started clubbing a lot more. I also started working at UPS. During that period, John started acting pretty strange. He showed up unannounced at my apartment on several occasions, creating awkward situations every time. Toward my female friends, some of whom were very attractive, he was often inappropriate. Things got exceptionally creepy after he tried to set up a lesbian encounter between my character and an NPC. I declined, saying I was extremely uncomfortable with the idea. He laughed and said it was weird in that awkward way people do when they don't believe what they're saying. Some time passed after that incident, then he told me that he couldn't continue to the GM for me because I wasn't "dedicated enough" and the game ended.

One thing SpaceTime did is put BTRC on my radar. I have CORPS and EABA, and I like the design philosophy behind both of them, although CORPS is a bit too crunchy for my tastes these days. Currently a Kickstarter for CORPS 3rd edition is running. It will be produced under license from BTRC.

Apotheosis Drive Exodus

David Hill of Machine Age Productions has launched the Kickstarter for Apotheosis Drive X, their Fate Core powered mecha game. There is a whole lot of goodness so far based on the playtest packet that they released, as well as playtest reports and it simply looks like a barrel of fun.

I've backed the Kickstarter because I have a soft spot for mecha games. But before it launched, David Hill had put out a call for setting pitches, to be included in a setting anthology as a stretch goal for the Kickstarter. Somewhat on a lark, I sent one in. It was titled Apotheosis Drive Exodus, and could be included in the setting anthology if the stretch goals are met.

The Premise
In a nutshell, mankind discovers that dark matter is something that is being created by a massive entity that they name the Engine. They also discover the Earth has only a few centuries before it is rendered uninhabitable by an incursion of this dark matter. Facing a threat larger than any humanity has ever known,  thousands of enormous generation ships are built to evacuate the entire population of Earth. Fast forward a few centuries, and mankind is being slowly hemmed in and exterminated by the Engine. Then a long-dead alien world is discovered, and with it massive war machines whose purpose seems to be to fight the Engine: the Jotun. With them mankind has hope, no matter how slim, of being able to triumph. 

Oddly enough, the inspirations for this setting aren't anime. They are hard science fiction novels such as Gregory Benford's Galactic Center series and Peter Watts' Blindsight. While Exodus is not hard science fiction (it does, after all, have enormous war machines and a universe being "reformatted" into dark matter), I'm still trying my best to have many of the basics be hard as possible.

The Goodies
Apotheosis Drive Exodus will have a number of features to get across the feel and scope of the setting
  • Size: We're talking about a universe-sized threat. The Arkships are constructed from large asteroids, planetoids, and even small moons. They have singularity generators powering them, magnetic scoops millions of kilometers in diameter and the firepower to vaporize small moons themselves. The Jotun are massive, dark energy powered and capable of going toe-to-toe with the worst a universe-spanning entity can throw at them.
  • Big Mysteries: Why does the Engine exist, and why would it create dark matter? What drives it? Why is humanity the only living intelligent species? How did the alien progenitor race unlock the secrets of the Engine? Why do A.I.s or other virtual intelligence/consciousness inevitably become corrupted?
  • Human solutions: Humanity are, by accident or design, the only hope for preserving a universe filled with wonder, diversity, and most importantly - life. Yet, as is human nature, there is not complete agreement. There are factions within these remnants of humanity, each with their own vision of the future.
  • Transhuman doesn't mean less human: Humanity has unlocked the secrets of genetic engineering, quantum mechanics, and countless other advancements. They are still recognizable as human beings. No radical genetic engineering, no extreme variations from the human form, no ability to download or upload consciousness.
  • Arkships: The Arkship is the focal point for the character group and is created with its own Aspects, Skills and Stunts. There are a few types of Arkships, and they provide the social and political backdrop for the characters when they are not fighting to save the universe.
  • Jotun: Jotun aren't alive, but that doesn't mean they don't have personality. Every Jotun is unique, with its own strengths and limitations. Armed with a dazzling variety of weaponry and abilities, they have the power to fight against overwhelming odds and a foe that utterly dwarfs them.
Hopefully that gives you an idea of where I am trying to go with this setting. Hopefully the Kickstarter will be successful enough that I'll be given the opportunity for it to be included it in the setting anthology.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Busy doing stuff. Things.

Between work, back pain, and another project I haven't given DFS much love lately. Not to worry though! I'm getting to where I can swing back around again and continue both resurrecting old content as well as push forward with putting the pieces in place for the Fate Core conversion.

In the meantime, here's some entertainment:

No Wandering Murderhobos Allowed

Before going any further, I'd like to submit a disclaimer. In no way am I suggesting that the "typical RPG adventuring party" of what amounts to a bunch of strangers with no common bonds is 1) BadWrong play or 2) something that happens in every single roleplaying group. But  from anecdotal and personal experience it happens often enough and can present certain types of challenges. Hopefully if this has ever been an issue for you, there will be something here you may not have considered before.

A discussion about the community rules in the Burn Shift setting for Fate Core got me thinking about generalizations of player character groups over the years. In particular, the concept of the "murderhobo" - a player character with no ties to anything, who simply moves through the game world wantonly killing and doing whatever they want. Obviously this trope is a gross exaggeration, despite how much the word amuses me. But the reason this stereotype exists is because it does happen to one degree or another, and I would think most gamers have experienced it in one form or the other. It might be the single player who wants to play Stabby Loner McDude who won't cooperate with anyone and wants to bring his swords everywhere; the guy who robs and tortures random NPCs because "it's in character"; or just the entire party having no permanent residence or significant social ties. There are usually other things going on in the group dynamics or with individual players that cause problems, but sometimes it can be chalked up to the characters simply not having a common center.

This setup, especially in it's most chronic form, can lead to a lot of headaches - for the GM and the players. Because having a diverse group of PCs with wildly different backgrounds and motivations, not to mention from far-flung regions in the campaign, can make it difficult create a cohesive group. It can lead to disconnects in expectations and frustrations because the characters only have shallow common goals. There are a number of techniques GMs use to try to get around this, usually by forcing the characters together in some manner (even if it's by saying, "You guys have to be together or this game won't work"). Obviously, many groups work around this in any number of ways. This can result in some very contrived situations as the reclusive netrunner and the socialite fixer have to come up with a reason to work with another, or the paladin and the thief have to constantly dance around the fact the paladin shouldn't tolerate the thief's existence. While either one of those are totally full of role-playing opportunities, the situation should exist with a goal in mind other than, "This is the only way these characters will work together".

Having the players all create characters at the same time, and ensure there's at least some group cohesion is one way around this. The group can also go one step further: have the characters all be a part of a community. This community can be a tribe, family, clan, military unit, criminal cartel, village, town, neighborhood, guild, or whatever works within the setting and the campaign. A social group that the characters care about its success or safety. The idea is that the players all collaborate to build this community and give it characteristics they'd like to see in the game. Once they have a fundamental social hub not only does it help the players feel engaged, but it opens up more opportunities for adventure. It creates situations where the characters have a reason to take action for their community's benefit over their own. Games like Fate Core actually have mechanics for creating the community through the "Fate fractal", either through the use of aspects all the way up to creating the community as a full-fledged character. In other games, it is probably sufficient to record a few things about the community that define it, especially those things that can move the characters to act for the community over their own interests.

There might be unease among some groups about allowing player collaboration to establish setting details, especially something like a faction or social group within the setting. Many settings have groups within their canon material, or it is just tradition to let the GM to decide these things. In those cases, I suggest just keep doing it that way if it works. But at the very least, the GM can try to take the suggestions above into consideration. I'm serious when I say it truly can't hurt.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

So we have more Cthulhu: Mysteries in Darkness

Have you ever wanted to play an entity straight out of Lovecraft's nightmares? Ever wonder how it would work to have a playable Deep One character? Maybe one of the Mi-Go? Well, then this isn't your game. It just has vampires who look exactly like other vampires except they're "Cthulian".
I wrote about the original preview of a few days ago, and now there's two more preview documents: one an excerpt from the intro and another some player's information. The writing's pretty bad (which is to be expected) and there are some strange details. Ten percent of the human population knows about vampires? Is that the world population or the U.S. population? Because one would be bigger than the population of the contiguous United States and the other still makes vampires a worse-kept secret by orders of magnitude than the Manhattan Project. It's these small slip ups that continue to amuse me.
The intro document has a story about a vampire archaeologist receiving a letter from an archaeological dig in Central America. An Incan site. In Central America. Protip: the Olmec were not only older than the Maya and Inca, but the location is right. Location is everything. Also, the term "diggers" brings to mind the National Geographic show of the same name, which is generally poo-pooed in the archaeological community. They're usually just called "workers".
I don't see any Inca there. Do you?
But I'm being really nitpicky for no particular reason - it's certainly not the first (or last) horrible piece of fluff fiction to be found in a role-playing book. Even really awesome games sometimes have them (I still shudder when I read certain fluff pieces in Tribe 8).

The second document adds only a little more than what was in the preview, stressing that the Cthulian vampires are different (but the same) and that they are waiting for the stars to become ri..."The Arrival." So we have monsters from beyond time and space, poised to drive mankind to the brink of madness and bring about our destruction, who are pretty much identical to the vampires and other creatures except for "small twists that make them unique".

It really seems more of a mild makeover than anything setting-shattering. The setup is going to be rife with internal inconsistencies and disconnects as a result of having "things man was not meant to know and the universe hates you" alongside a pastiche of Judeo-Christian like concepts such as demons, angels, God, etc. It's just plain poorly thought out. It essentially treats the Mythos like something you can just add to whatever to try to make it better. Kind of like sriracha. Everything is better with sriracha, right?

Fudge Dice vs Fate Dice...FIGHT!

As anyone who has looked for them knows, Fudge/Fate dice can be kind of hard to find. I was able to score three tubes at a mall game store that was going out of business, and I've backed the Thematic Fate Dice/Fudge Dice Kickstarter to get another four sets. Buying the random tubes from the game store was pretty much the same selection I was finding online. 

But even harder than finding them, at least for me, is the name: "Fudge dice." I know that's always been their name, and in lieu of any better name I've used it just like everybody else. That doesn't stop me from disliking the name. It's horrible. So when I saw "Fate dice" in Fate Core for the first time, the verbal parts of my brain were kind of happy. Great, I though - I'm never going to have to say "Fudge dice" again. Plus, I don't play Fudge, which never really clicked with me no matter how much I wanted to like it. 

But it looks like that wording of "Fate dice" has ruffled some feathers among the die-hard Fudge community. Over on RPGGeek there's some discomfort over the wording in Fate Core as well as Evil Hat's decision to brand a version of the dice as Fate Dice. Their concerns are, to me, legitimate at least in terms of insuring that Evil Hat isn't trying to bury Fate's historical link to Fudge system. But suggesting that Evil Hat be forced to use the term "Fudge dice" is kind of not cool.

Evil Hat has the blessing of Grey Ghost Press to make this move. They've never denied Fate's roots in the Fudge system, or tried to take credit for the 4DF mechanic or design of Fudge dice. As Fred Hicks has pointed out, Evil Hat are the ones who have created a successful brand for their games. If they're making an investment to create a custom set of dice for Fate, they should reserve the right to brand those dice as they see fit. He has also said that the packaging will note the compatibility with Fudge. It's win-win and should be good enough for anybody.

I don't think anybody is being robbed of any credit for their creations because of this move. Evil Hat are well within their rights to use the term Fate Dice in their own game. Trying to force them into a position of either using only the term Fudge dice in Fate Core, or having to give double billing to their branded dice and Fudge dice, is intentionally diluting Evil Hat's own creations and effort. It's doing nothing but coddling a very few people's pedagogic tendencies, no matter how well-intentioned those tendencies are.

Search Alphabet Soup

Looking at search terms that lead to a blog or website seems to be a thing. So I pulled out some of the more...colorful ones. I'm not sure what exactly possesses people to type these combinations of letters into Google, but I guess it is what it is.

eat a bag of dicks - I get the connotation, having said this before myself. I just kind of fail to see why someone would search for that phrase.

i understand nothing - You and me both. You and me both.

am i a good person - I'm not particularly qualified to answer that question, and I'm unclear as to how you'd find the answer here.

copying is not theft - You've come to entirely the wrong place to try to validate that statement.

melee hutton - Not lately, no. Unless you're looking for the 19th century swordsman with my surname.
up the shitter - That seems exactly the opposite of what you want to happen there.

why is daryl dixon so expensive - I'm not quite sure. Are you bidding on him on eBay?

wolf dicks - You know, I post once about Werewolf wang and this is what happens.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Fate of Vimary character sheet

After a lot of tweaking, I finally got my character sheet done for Fate of Vimary. It's interesting how just having the character sheet done makes things seem more concrete, more of a thing. The other awesome thing is while I've always created custom character sheets for various games, the tools available now totally beat using Publisher and Word to try to do it. Between Inkscape and GIMP, it's very easy to create a character sheet and with a lot less time and effort.

Without further ado, I give you three versions of the sheet in PDF format as well as the .SVG file (for anyone who wants to tinker with it themselves).

The Future Belongs To Us

Updated: clarified a few things, some new info and another press release.
This little gem was pointed out to me by +Chris Knowles. A hitherto unknown game company called Atraxy Publishing has announced a cyberpunkish, transhumanistish rpg called The Future Belongs to Us. Here's the announcement:
An all new, all original tabletop RPG has been announced by Ataraxy Publishing called “The Future Belongs To Us”. The game is going to make its major debut at Origins, and will also appear at dozens of conventions nationwide this year. They are taking preorders for both the limited edition and standard edition of the Player’s Guide due out in April.
It kind of looks like a cyberpunk heartbreaker but it's hard to tell. There's very little information out there about this game other than the scant details on their website: it's played by people from 11 to 50, with lots of different nationalities, and there's been a bunch of playtesters (sound familiar?). We find out that the system uses a d20 and is called DiceLight, and the "Player driven game mechanics free up the Game Master to focus on the narrative. There's a Leaderboard that tracks a "Culture" rating, which you get more of by buying things.
It should also be noted that they are taking pre-orders for the Player's Guide, either a $30 edition or a $50 deluxe edition, for a product that nobody has seen or has any details about. I know there are people who like to gamble out there, but I usually like to know what I'm getting into.
From the comments on Tabletop Gaming News, we get this description of the game's background from  beta tester VonRyan:
Freedom was stripped away from every person on earth during the first half of the 21st century. With every new law that was passed by the world governments, individuals lost more control over their lives; and crime was escalating A new atmosphere of fear and hopelessness had fallen on the world culture, with only a few intransigent rebels able to overcome the backdrop of despair to benefit people to any large extent These rebels have come to be known as the Freedom Underground, individuals working towards similar goals in that they want to end the oppression caused by the expanding police state and the growing influence of organized crime gangs. Whether the Freedom Underground will have success remains to be seen… 
The Future Belongs To Us is standardly based in 2048. The one world government that rules over the earth is the UNE or United Nations of Earth. Every branch of armed forces have been formed into one force, the UNPF or United Nations Peace Force.
The main factions inherent in the Base System are the UNE, the Freedom Underground, the Hardbodies, the Brotherhood, and the Mystics. The Freedom Underground is somewhat ambiguous, they are all fighting for freedom but their hierarchy is amorphous. They are basically formed into cells of teams that sometimes work for members of higher renown.
The Hardbodies are the gang that really runs the crime world. They’re the largest, the meanest, and the most powerful gang out there, and they don’t like competition. The UNE hasn’t been able to or has wanted to put a stop to them so they expand unchecked.
The Brotherhood is a shadowy organization more myth and conjecture than actual fact. It supposedly running things and pulling the strings of the world from behind the scenes. If that is true then the situation of the world falls squarely on their shoulders.
Finally, The Mystics. Pseudo-Prophets some weak-minded individuals have turned to for guidance. Eyewitness accounts of miracles being performed are becoming harder to ignore. Reports by some investigators report it as myth, others say it is fact and swear by it.
The Future Belongs To Us is a point-based system in which a starting character is based upon 4000 or so points. Every ability costs a certain number of points, which accounts for the “make your own way” approach that has been mentioned. Instead of XP every session awards you points to spend or save is you see fit. The character sheet is divided into Attributes, Skills, and Proficiencies.
Attributes are the foundations of all characters and add on to Skills and Proficiencies. They are thus more expensive. Examples would be Agility, Strength, and perception. Skills are more personal than fundamental and include things like demolitions, science, weaponry, and Dual Weapons, for example. The Proficiencies include Ranged Weapons, Stealth, acrobatics, Melee Weapons, and Surface Vehicles.
I’ve been running as a beta-test game master for the system and find it fun, engaging, and a great game for telling an exciting story.
So we have a bunch of rebels fighting against a world government. A gang called the Hardbodies that has somehow supplanted every organized crime syndicate in the world. Some religious sect that may or may not be able to perform miracles, followed by weak-minded people. And 4000 points? How fine-grained of a cost system does a game need?

The company putting the game out, Ataraxy Publishing, has no presence at all. I've contacted them to get a little more information. So far the only posts I've seen casting it in a positive light or providing any additional details, on TTGN orThe RPGSite, are people touting how fun it is and how they've been beta-testing for years. A couple of those responses are of the very short "I loves this game!" cheerleader variety and smell kind of sock-like.

Update: I did get a response from the publisher, who composed a professional but vague response to my questions:
Hello Wil,

Thank you for contacting us with your questions. More information on the game will be posted on the website soon, and we will also be running at dozens of conventions this year so that people new to the game can experience it firsthand.

Gaming news site Initiative: Tabletop will be running news stories about our game, starting today. We will have review copies of the Player's Guide available next month for select gaming news sources.

I appreciate you taking the time to learn more about our game, and if there is anything else we can help you with, please let us know.


That lead me to Initiative: Tabletop's story which doesn't give a lot more detail but does have the kind of phrasing that's always troubling to see in an article about a game system:
One amazing element of this system is it gives each playe [sic] the ability to choose how they want to defend against attacks. When attacked players can choose dodging, blocking, evasion, countermoves, and evrn [sic] preemption to deal with attacks.
The troubling part about it is most combat systems offer those kinds of choices. Unless there's some new and innovative way of doing it, like maybe a spinner or one of those dice bubble things like in Sorry, then being able to choose defense is not so much "amazing" as "kind of expected".

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lover's Plot

Originally written by (I believe) Edwyn Kumar.

Margot: The Tera shebans are forcing our hand in this affair.
Daedic: There is no need to panic, Margot. Our diplomats are working as we speak. Farma, what is the current situation on Hom?
Farma: The Outcasts are suffering a major food shortage due to the blockage and increased position of the Joanites in both Bazaar, and at the Fallen Bridge. There is definite evidence that the three prisoners to be exiled, on the coming new moon, are going to have to find another place to stay. All according to Cylix, I’m certain.
Daedic: There is no room for speculation here, Farma, but your insight is appreciated. Is your “contact” still under your control?
Farma: The young Advocate to Euramali has no option but to be seduced by my charms, High Master Daedic.
Daedic: Excellent. Continue to garner more information. Our goals are far from being achieved. However, I see great potential in your assignment.
Farma: A. . . pleasure, your High Master.
Daedic: Margot. Are the Order of the Withered Rose diplomats underway?
Margot: At last contact, yes, High Master. The diplomat of the Order is assured that the Hl’kar will be most obliging in this matter.
Daedic: It is a great risk, but the gains from it will be great. Make certain that the diplomats of the Iron Guild amongst the Joanites are well compensated for their sacrifice. Their families will each receive a medallion of “The Lover and Witness”. Make certain this detail is not forgotten Margot.
Margot: Already anticipated and underway, High Master. Although, won’t the Tera Shebans be suspicious of some internal sympathy in this plan?
Farma: That is my affair, Margot. I would ask that you remain to your own duties and watch that your ambitions do not let you stray.
Margot: Yes, Revered Concubine.
Farma: The Koleris will not fail us in this, High Master. Rest assured. With the lack of forces at the Seven Fingers, their presence will be unnoticed. . .until it is too late. Cylix’s plans will be postponed. This will of course, allow the other Tribes to force the attention of the Tera Shebans, and in turn, the Joanites, towards the Z’Bri threat.
Margot: And what of the Fallen threat? The possibility of the Fallen factions acting against us, especially the Herites, are all too real. Is this risk worth the results?
Daedic: Second guessing the process already in place is futile. We are at an impasse with the Pillars, and unless we make some form of movement now, the Tera Sheban hope of a Unified Law, will become a reality. We cannot allow this to happen. Baba Yaga has sanctioned what little she knows of our ploy and our other Fate, Eve, has far too many Tera Sheban sympathizers for us to resort to Her council. This is a Magdalite concern and so will be dealt within Magadalite channels. Don’t forget, that should the ever watchful Judges come to learn of the plot, the Order of the Withered Rose will be used to save us from persecution. Now go. . .there is far more information to be gained. I have a reception with the High Council. We will gather again on the fortnight. Magdalen’s Love.
Farma & Margot: Magadalen’s Love.

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

A couple days ago I had the misfortune of seeing the new art for Garrett in Thief 4. GameInformer ran a story on it, and there's a lot of buzz going around so that aspect of what the images are, what Eidos has said about them, etc., is pretty much covered.

Personally, my expectations for Thief 4 have always been another Thief game, featuring the same-old  Garrett in the same-old City, just moving the story along with better graphics, better interface, and some added goodies. I suppose seeing Dishonored, with all of it's Thief-inspirations but wrapped up in a more modern-looking package, should have been my warning that any other games coming out in the sneaker genre are going to start to look the same way. When the screenshots came out, my expectation for that game dropped. Seeing the new look for Garrett, I think I'm better off having no expectations at all.

My love of the Thief franchise stems from the fact that Garrett has always been a gritty, noir character. He was written in the vein of classic D&D thieves. He was like the Grey Mouser, or Shadowspawn. He doesn't fight unless he has to, and he's better at getting away than using a sword. Instead, it looks like we're getting Thief: UFC Edition, and less Shadowspawn than goth Chuck Liddell.

This game might wind up being really good. It might be a ton of fun. But with the direction they're going, it won't be Thief except in name and that really sucks. It makes me love Thief: the Dark Project even more, outdated graphics and all. It's like comfort food, but with blackjacks and water arrows. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Flashback Friday: The Apshai Trilogy

And now for something completely different.

Behold the wonder of 1970s video game cover art!
So far I've been posting about tabletop rpgs, but now I want to talk about a computer game because it actually contributed to my AD&D games. The game was later known collectively as the "Apshai Trilogy", but originally it was just one game and then two later expansions. They were made by Epyx, who put out a number of other pretty cool games in the 80s, including a star ranger/powered armor type game and a fantasy strategy game that riffed off the Battle of the Five Armies from The Hobbit. I played Apshai and those games on one of several Ataris and eventually a Commodore/Amiga/etc.

The gameplay was nothing revolutionary. You had a character with attributes and hit points and gold, and you moved around dungeons fighting monsters to get more gold and magic items and whatnot. It may have been ROGUE-like, but I never had any experience with ROGUE. I think the closest I've ever come to ROGUE was playing Telengard on one of our first IBM-clones.

Graphically, it was on par for its time - it looked a lot like ASCII art, but since the Atari was connected to something like a 13" TV (for a time, it might even have been a black and white TV) it didn't really matter. Epyx had a clever technique to make up for the lack of HD graphics - each game came with a little booklet that contained text descriptions of the various rooms. When you entered a room, there was a room number you could look up in the booklet. Add in the fact that you could precisely measure each room and map the dungeon, and we get to how this nifty little game contributed to my early tabletop rpg experience.

Behold the wonder of 1980s graphics!

Armed with graph paper (I bought it so regularly the people at the stationery store down the street knew to set aside a few pads of it if they saw me coming) I mapped every ten foot square of the dungeons in each of those three games. I then was able to take my Monster Manual and find matches for every monster encountered in the game. Then it was just a matter of using the maps with game booklets and I had some pretty well laid out dungeons with very little effort. At some point, I even managed to type all of the room descriptions in to a word processor so I could remix them into completely new dungeons.

The beautiful thing about it was that they were dungeons (or Dunjons) that nobody had played through before. Because of limited funds, at that time we had recycled modules two or three times. For populat modules, it was hard to find people who hadn't played through them. Everyone was excited when I unveiled a brand new homebrew dungeon. When the Monster Manual II came out, the Thri-Kreen became the race I used for the ant-men and it turned into a whole campaign centered around Apshai, the Thri-Kreen and maps of temples I copied from the appendix in a KJV Bible (much to my mother's disapproval).

It's probably worth noting that the Apshai Trilogy was my first ever foray into but screwing around with code. The games were written in BASIC, and there weren't any such things as compilers or encryption back then. Think about it like editing config files for a PC game. I could give myself virtually unlimited hit points, or gold, reveal all of the secret doors, make myself whatever level, or make my weapon do some insane amount of damage. The novelty wore off pretty quick but it was helpful in mapping out the dungeons.

Now what I want to do is grab the room descriptions, track down some maps of the dungeons, and hack together a Fate Accelerated Edition game mimicking a Basic D&D sandbox type of dungeoncrawl. Use approaches for the character classes, stunts for racial abilities, magic and class abilities, and go to town on giant rats, spiders, scorpions, the occasional jackal, mummies and (of course) ant-men. I'd probably read the fluff straight from the book, too.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Post-Apocalypse Exploration "Triangle Tables"

Quite a long time ago, RPGNet user Gullerbutry had a wonderful thread on "triangle tables". I turned around and made a set of triangle tables for random exploration of a post-apocalypse city or its environs. I was straightening out some documents and assets and, even though I linked to them a long time ago on Dreams of Flesh and Spirit, I thought I'd put them up on here as well.
The way these tables work (you can see a sample image below) is you roll 5dF and cross index the + results and the - results. The little numbers in the corners show you the probability for that square (that's how I  figured out the distribution). For these tables, you either decide what type of area is being explored or roll on Table 1. Then you find the appropriate table and roll again. The goal is to figure out what there is for exploration within two rolls or so.
You can grab the .PDF from Google Docs.

Now for the game you have all been waiting for

Drumroll please

We'll start this off with a little quote from the beginning to set the mood.

If you’ve read H.P. Lovecraft then you know what Cthulhu is all about. One theme we loved was that there seemed to be things that mortals just couldn’t grasp, things beyond their understanding. The idea that things are not what you’d expect them to be.

I nearly spit out my hot snow coffee reading that. I may not be into vampires much, but I am a Mythos fan. I could write pages on the themes that pervade H.P. Lovecraft's writing. The implications of his own personal struggles and how his worldview affected his stories. The others who have since added to the Mythos. Many more astute people than I throughout the decades have already done so. If this "playtest demo" is "inspired by H.P. Lovecraft", it doesn't show any of that inspiration other than a few throwaway references to "Elder Gods" and "The Deep". It misses the boat entirely (a better metaphor is it just drives off the fucking pier, there never was a boat) by going for the "darque thyngs mankind cannot understand" instead of the real nugget buried in the Mythos: the universe doesn't give a shit (much like the honey badger). Understanding isn't the problem, it's losing your mind in the process. In CthulhuTech, they comprehend perfectly well what they're facing - enough to use Mythos-derived technology to build mecha to fight back (they still may lose, but that goes back to the universe not caring). In The Laundry novels, they know what they're up against and that CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN is the Sword of Damocles hanging over everything. It's just a matter of delaying it as long as possible and keeping the world from going batshit insane in the meantime.

Yet in a daring move that is sure to baffle and astound you, the author of this offering from Dark Phoenix Publishing has decided to buck that trend and make "Cthulhian" an adjective and still leave out pretty much any substantial Mythos influences. As if adding "Cthulhian" to something automatically makes it mature and mysterious and frightening.

Let's try this out right now and see if adding "Cthulhu" to things makes them scarier.

"Hey, why didn't you get that report finished today?"

"It was Cthulhian, man. Really Cthulhian."

How about this?

Actually, this is scarier than Cthulhu: Mysteries in Darkness
Apparently the impetus for trying to add these "Cthulhian elements" was a player in a LARP writing some kind of wicked awesome backstory (that apparently didn't involve the X Games).
So John wrote this incredible backstory to his character and tied in a lot of information. We playtested it and got some good reviews, pounded out the problems and eventually I looked at him and said, “why don’t you write a book for the game with all of these elements?”
I'm not sure if Mykal Lakim actually really knew anything about the Mythos before this event occurred, but there already are a grip of games with those elements. This isn't to say there can't be room for more, but given how good many of those existing games are you have to bring something more to the table than changing a few things about your vampires. Unfortunately the universe hates me too much to make sure Dark Phoenix Publishing's finished product will actually be as full of squicky WTF potential as Wraeththu was, so this is the material I have to work with. As an added bonus, I'll probably get this John guy pointing out how nobody understands Lovecraft the way he does and the Necronomicon is real, and a certain draconian-avatared sockpuppet countering every one of my points with an "indepdendent review" containing suspiciously detailed information that isn't in the "playtest demo."

Speaking of  "playtest demos", like the rest of Dark Phoenix Publishing's offerings this can be used for neither playtesting nor running demos. There are rudimentary descriptions of what the "Cthulhian" vampire template does, but they are vague and useless in any kind of play. For example, we learn "Cthulhians also seem to have a more intimate knowledge of the Predatorial Nature, although no Huntru understands why this is." But there's no actual mechanical description of what that means. The same thing with the rules overview - a lot of terms are defined, but there's not enough there to take the document and do anything with it.

Reading further confirms "Cthulhian" really is little more a couple kewl powerz with a thin veneer of how mysterious it all is plastered on top. You'd think, given the subject matter, these powers would be the ability to shatter minds with geometry and instill an aversion to calamari. Instead, we get the pedestrian ability to travel through shadows and "manipulate physical death." I have a friend who's a mortician - I'm sure she manipulates physical death all the time. She also does cabaret dancing. "Cthulhian" is not a word I would use to describe her. So nope, no existentialist, soul-crushing realizations that one of the Outer Gods could belch and wipe out the solar system without even an "Excuse me." Instead, "Cthulhian" is just a code-word for carrying around a paperback copy of the Necronomicon at LARPs (you can put it in one of those black leather book covers with a pentacle on it if you want) and trying to convince 17-year old girls to touch your "book of power".

There is a wide range of material out there that tries to capture the profound isolation and indifference of the human condition in Lovecraft's writings. Pretty much every single one of them, even if they are attempting a different take on the Mythos, actually try to incorporate elements of the hopelessness in the face of a universe that doesn't have good and evil but simply doesn't notice us. Cthulhu: Mysteries in Darkness, at least from this little preview, doesn't do any of that. It basically says, "Put a sticker on your shirt that says 'Cthulhian' on it" and called it a day. Not that I took the document seriously in any way or thought it was going to offer up something completely mind-blowing in it's novelty. I just wanted an excuse to put "Hello Cthulhu" in a blog post.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fate of Vimary Character Creation Draft

This is extremely short, but it's the nuts and bolts of character creation for Fate of Vimary, specifically highlighting minor differences in the phase trio and a very short guideline for cells. The idea is to leverage the use of Fate Core's cooperative character creation to make sure that the player characters are connected to one another in a way appropriate to Tribe 8, as well as emphasize that cell creation is something which has a tangible benefit as an extra. You can grab the draft from Google Docs.

I was also inspired by the Spark RPG Kickstarter, which looks totally worth backing, to figure out a simple way of abstracting out factions and belief systems. It wouldn't be a subsystem that would see regularly use in play, but it might be kind of cool for use during Rants and whatnot.

I also think I'm in a position to start to throw together a character sheet.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Sins of the Sister, Part 6

Sins of the Sister, Part 1
Sins of the Sister, Part 2
Sins of the Sister, Part 3
Sins of the Sister, Part 4
Sins of the Sister, Part 5

It was a new moon that night, and the grave fields before us were illuminated only by starlight. Occasionally we would spot a small flame or mysterious light along the dark paths below, but otherwise there was no motion and no sound. Kileg had built a small fire to ward off the darkness and the growing chill, despite my weak protests about offending whatever spirits watched over Mortuary. Very few things genuinely scared Kileg, least of all the dark, yet he jumped at every crack and sizzle from the sputtering flames. If we were not surrounded by the graves of our ancestors' ancestors, I would have found it humorous. Our whispered conversation eventually turned from the latest happenings along the Seven Fingers to the Joshuan sword. We tried to understand how it could have wound up in an Evan boy's hands, and how a Sin Eater was supposed to make things right.

It was hard to gauge the passage of time in Mortuary, but we must have sat around the fire until well after midnight. The flickering against the wall of the tomb's mouth had long dimmed. Suddenly the light inside flared and an unearthly scream ripped through the air, catching Kileg and I utterly off guard. We grabbed our swords and ran headlong into the sepulcher.

The entrance passage turned sharply once, descending down an earthen ramp into a circular chamber. A guttering fire was at the center, filling the room with heavy smoke and the smell of incense and herbs. Standing beside it was a grotesque mass of flesh, bone and viscera, its skin etched with bleeding runes and sigils. It bellowed at us, revealing a mouth that nearly bisected its head, full of ichor and several rows of teeth. Its features were incomplete and unformed, like clay shaped by a child's hands, and its skin writhed and convulsed unnaturally as it moved.

Something snapped in Kileg upon seeing it. He returned the roar with a cry of his own and charged. I think his spirit was swept from his body even before the disfigured arm swatted him away, as I felt him dive into the River of Dream with no focus and no attempt to control it. Kileg's limp body slammed into the wall behind me with a sickening crunch. An instant later the beast was on me, raining down a savage barrage of blows that shattered my blade and dislocated one arm.

I managed to put the fire between myself and the beast, and we circled warily for a few seconds. It was then I truly saw the rest of the chamber. The blood and entrails sprayed against the wall, the remains of the two young Joanites. The shattered bowls and ritual implements scattered on the ground. The Joshuan blade sitting at the edge of the firepit. Den'a and Robbo were missing, and in their place the monster. Its expression was filled with hared and rage, but its eyes seemed to plead with me.

Surrounded by the haze of drugs and incense in the power-charged air, I calmed myself with a koan and slipped into the River.

Joan saw Dahlia on the road and asked where she had come from.
"The River," Dahlia said.
"Where did you spend the winter?" Joan asked.
"In the south of Sanctuary." Dahlia responded.

The beast took a step forward, dust raining down from the ceiling as its misshapen foot struck the ground.

Joan wondering how long Dahlia could give honest answers and asked, "When did you leave there?"
"On the first new moon after the snow last fell." Dahlia responded, and Joan knew it to be truth.
"I should give you three blows, but today I forgive you." Joan told Dahlia and left her on the road.

One more step and the beast closed the gap. It raised one arm, the flesh shifting and rippling as talons the size of arrow heads erupted from its fingertips. There was no way I could survive another blow.

The next day Dahlia came to Joan and asked, "Yesterday you forgave me three blows. Why did you believe me?"
Joan replied, "You are good for nothing. You simply wander from one Tribe to another."

My koan done, Synthesis flooded the small chamber. Just as a Dahlian dancer knows her next dozen steps I saw every possibility of movement, the result of every chain of events. I rolled underneath the creature's arm as it smashed into the wall hard enough to crack the rock, coming to my feet beside the firepit. The Joshuan sword was already in my hand. Poised on the balls of my feet, I coiled my legs like springs and launched myself in an arc at the beast, visible lines of power and force in the air guiding my trajectory. The rough blade plunged to its hilt between the abomination's shoulder blades just as it started to turn, staggering the creature forward until it fell to one knee and then slumped to the ground.

I did not move from beside the creature's corpse, not even when the Joanite girl found me. She left and came back with several Yagans, who bound me and took me out of the tomb and into the light. They brought me to Mortuary where they questioned me about what had happened. Then they turned me over, still bound, to my sisters in Joan. In each person's face I could see nothing else but the creature's eyes. Dena's eyes. Robbo's eyes. They were one and the same.

From the transcripts of Inquisitor Ren'nel's questioning of Cara Gray'on:

"So your statement is that Aline is lying? That you did not kill the Sin Eater, the boy, and the Joanites to protect your secret?"

"Aline? Who..." The subject's bonds tightened slightly, eliciting a low moan of pain.

"Answer the question. Noncooperation will only tighten your bonds. The Joanite girl. You never bothered to learn her name, did you? " The Inquisitor selected a brand from among various utensils laid out on a table, placing it in a brazier of hot coals. "I would use Truthsaying but I have enough evidence. Her statement is that you killed everyone in that chamber including Kileg Tar'on, one of your own tribesmen. Becoming concerned when none of you returned, Aline overcame her fear and sought out the tomb. That is where she found you, holding the sword that slaughtered your tribesmen. You would have killed her too, but she escaped."

"No...the Sin Eater, not..." The straps began to cut into her flesh, staining the edges of the leather red.

"I know your secrets. How you found the Joshuan sword during a raid on a Serf hamlet and kept it for yourself, even while your sisters died at the hands of the Z'bri. How you plotted revenge on Nyeda for rejecting your affections. How you gave the sword to the boy, knowing the blade's power would affect his simple mind. How you twisted him so he would think Nyeda an enemy needing to be cut down."

"Lies..." Came the strangled answer.

"Shaman Storm Cry saw through your ruse. He arranged  for a Sin Eater to purify the boy and discover the truth, to get the evidence necessary to hold you accountable. You tracked them to Mortuary and slaughtered all of them in cold blood to keep your secrets hidden. Do you deny this?"

The only answer was a gurgle. The collar around the Templar's throat had constricted so that she could only gasp for air and watch as The Inquisitor picked up the glowing brand and turned towards her. She struggled feebly against the restraints, each movement tightening them until they sawed into her flesh and totally immobilized her.

"Cara Gray'on, you face the charge of heresy against the Fatimas. For betraying your oaths to Joan and the remainder of the Seven. For allowing greed, jealousy and lust to poison your heart. For murdering five of your fellow Tribesmen, and for attempted murder of a sixth. Crimes so heinous Tera Sheba will not allow her Judges to try them. You are to be consigned to the Circle of the Fallen on the next new moon. Should you survive, you will continue to live the life you have chosen - empty, soulless and without the protection and love of the Fatimas. To the Nation, the Tribe of Joan, your clan and your family you will be dead. If you are lucky, you will perish there."

The Inquisitor brought the brand to the Templar's forehead and pushed it against the inverted sword tattoo there, searing away ink and flesh. Cara Gray'on, Templar of Joan, didn't even have the strength to scream.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Fate of Vimary Gear and Weapons Draft

This took a while to figure out. There are numerous ways of handling weapons and armor in Fate Core. Balancing out the costs and how they work as extras is a pretty big deal, and is something there aren't a huge number of guidelines for. Fortunately there are a lot of ideas out there. The one that I went with was from this post on EldritchFire Press which synced up with some other suggestions I'd seen. I think the end result has a good amount of abstraction without making the weapons and armor entirely too fiddly (and, having looked through some GURPS and Hero books lately, I definitely know fiddly).

You can grab the draft document here. It still needs some details regarding "enchanted" artifacts and whatnot, which I'll be filling in later.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Flashback Friday: Algol

Mekton from R. Talsorian Games has always had a default setting called Algol. The setting is essentially a showcase for all kinds of 70s and 80s anime concepts. It's an Earthlike world but with oddities ala Super Dimensional Century Orguss or Super Dimensional Century Southern Cross. There  is Gundam-like mecha, psionics, reptilian alien bad guys, lost technology, wandering mecha nomads, technopriests and of course big, brightly-color anime hair. The game has gone through several editions, but Algol has remained as the stock setting for every one of them.

Algol was settled by refugees from an intergalactic war against an alien race called the Aggendi. The Aggendi  wiped out the colony and left, thinking the job was done. The survivors, blasted back practically to the Stone Age, eventually rebuilt and spread across the planet. As the centuries passed, two large nations evolved, one on the northern continent and one on the southern - the Elarans and the Kargans. The archipelago of islands across the equator held a number of smaller nations, mecha nomads called the Etarrans, and the sub-continent of Muria. The egalitarian Elarans were descended from the relatively peaceful descendants of the original civilian scientists, doctors, teachers, etc. The totalitarian Kargans were descended from the colony ship's crew and military contingent.


Eventually, two things were discovered: the secrets of technology locked away in the remains of the original colony ship and that Algol was undergoing an ice age. The two nations began to jockey for land in the warmer archipelago, and a series of wars broke out between them - either directly or through proxies in the Archipelago. Once the secrets of the Mektons that were once used to defend the colony were unlocked, it was totally on between the two nations.

There's a whole lot of awesome in the setting. The inhabitants live in arcologies, connected to one another by fortified elevated roadways, for protection from weather extremes, the local wildlife, and enemy attacks. The Murians fill the role of mysterious technopriests - almost like Atlanteans - with their high technology, psionics and all encompassing force field that keeps everyone out. The appendix in the original Mekton book included all kinds of neat descriptions of various arcologies, personalities, and creatures.

It shouldn't need to be said that the biggest piece of awesome in Algol are the mecha. The Mekton Techbook expanded on the original build system for Mekton II and made it in a fantastic, flexible system and at the same provided a Jane's Fighting Mecha of Algolian Mektons. In a clever move, the listed mecha start with basic models (the biplanes of Mektons) and move forward in time as technology improves. Even better, the descriptions of each Mekton provide vignettes into Algol's history by mentioning battles, personalities and other events. The drawings of the mecha were done by Jason and John Waltrip, who have also done art for Car Wars and Robotech: the Sentinels and other comics.

It takes a lot of intakes to get a Deathstalker in the air

The setting even got the anime-series treatment in the form of the Operation Rimfire campaign. I still regard Operation Rimfire as one of the best campaigns I have ever run. Basically, you played the crew of a spaceship constructed solely for traveling to Algol's outer system to investigate an anomaly. The book itself was gorgeous, with great art and full color glossy pages giving character backgrounds, maps, etc. Unfortunately it was soft-bound, so the pages eventually started to fall out. As can be expected from a pre-published adventure there are rail-roady parts and pacing issues, but it had a good mix of character development and action, a few twists, and a suitably dramatic big-boss ending.

Mekton Zeta, the last edition of Mekton, expanded upon the setting by using the end of Operation Rimfire as a launching point. It described the rest of Algol's star system and the new bad guys - the returning Aggendi, which it retconned from saurians into a kind of insectoid species. The technology base for the mecha was also advancted. Unfortunately, a lot of the accumulated material from previous editions was either paraphrased or left out, so the Algol presented in Mekton Zeta seemed a little bland. The example mecha designs for the Algolians weren't quite as interesting, either.

I have extolled Mike Pondsmith's virtues before, and the Algol setting is further proof he's a master game designer and story teller. Pondsmith manages to meld many disparate influences together seamlessly and organically, polishing them into a really fun setting with a lot of gaming potential.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Little Dose of Reality

Some people (well, two) seem to think I only write about Dark Phoenix Publishing. My reaction is to write this which probably doesn't help. But I love data and decided to pull together some word counts. If I get really bored later I'll make a line graph.

Since 12/26/2012 on this blog I have written 11,083 words on other subjects and 9,654 words about Dark Phoenix Publishing. At first blush this doesn't seem favorable. Once I fold in the two static pages dedicated to Dark Phoenix Publishing it really looks like they're right: 14,734 words dedicated to this embattled "publishing company."

But there's more. I have another blog, Dreams of Flesh and Spirit, dedicated to Tribe 8. Since 12/26/2012, I have written 6619 words on DFS for a total of 17,702 words.

But that's not all. In various documents on Google Docs I've written an additional 8,848 words for a grand total of 26,550 words. That's roughly 54 letter sized pages.

So, about 55.5% of the content I've written on blogs or documents - from 12/26/2012 forward - has been about Dark Phoenix Publishing. It's way more than I originally expected or intended and isn't something I would say I am "happy" about, any more than I am ever "happy" about fixing SQL bugs. It's something that needed to be done. It is also a situation that isn't going to persist.

On the positive side an average of 589 words per day for the past 70 days certainly is nothing to sneeze at, no matter what the subject matter. Not enough to finish NaNoWriMo but respectable nonetheless.

EDIT: It seems that the douchecanoe brigade wants to twist this around into my saying I spend "55% of my time stalking Dark Phoenix Publishing." Pshaw. If I spent 55% of my time stalking anything it would be Scarlett Johansson.

Draft Contacts/Social Stress write-up

This was the result of a lot of tinkering. It looks pretty solid without playtesting, but I think it will capture the feel I'm going for. There are a lot great thinkers on the Fate Core Google+ group who helped bounce ideas around, particularly +Jack Gulick. I'm also considering moving over to Andrew Jensen's ideas on using Stress as a Positive Currency because they look like they go a ways toward alleviating some of the problems I can see with stress only being the result of "attacks". Other tweaks I'm considering are adding at least one extra consequence to the mild or moderate consequence tiers to accommodate that there's one more way to inflict stress. Those decisions might have to wait until I actually run this thing.

Without further ado, you can download it here.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tribe 8 Extras (and thoughts on a project name)

Tribe 8 in Fate Core is coming along nicely. It's gotten to the point where I have to plan what portions I  need to draft out in terms of Extras. Tribe 8 is a rich and well-developed setting, and there's temptation to assign aspects and stress tracks to everything, which goes against what I'm trying to accomplish. Here is that preliminary list of Extras I think are absolutely necessary.
  1. Locations. Tribe 8 has a number of locations that deserve to be Extras because they have a distinct character and theme. Some, like Hom or Bazaar, play integral parts to Tribe 8's story. These places will get the "Extra" treatment, but I won't do it for all of them as I did for Strands of Flesh and Spirit.
  2. The River of Dream. The need for this can't be overstated. There's a reason the River of Dream has a whole sourcebook devoted to it.
  3. Armor and weapons. I'm not wanting to make them too detailed or fiddly, but there is a difference between a flint knife, an artifact sword made from Joan Herself, and a Keeper rifle. However, there's not much difference between the flint knife, a length of pipe, and a makeshift spear. The same goes for armor. The idea will be to paint them in broad strokes and not sweat the unimportant things.
  4. Survival. The Tribes have it pretty good, but it still isn't easy. The Fallen have it a lot worse and the Squats aren't much better off than the Fallen. Food, fresh water, clothing, shelter and other necessities are constant needs that drain time and resources for everyone. It's just a matter of striking a balance between a dull subsystem or an entertaining one.
  5. Status/Reputation. This is something that was lacking from Tribe 8, but in a post-apocalyptic tribal setting reputation is pretty much the only currency you have. I've become convinced the designers missed the boat on dropping barter in as a simple substitute for a typical game economy, and doing retcons in later books to create a monetary system was a step in the wrong direction. It's not about what you have to barter or what you're bartering for - it's all about your standing in the social group. Hunter Gatherer Games has some fantastic things to say on the matter. Tangentially, through them I found a link to a continuation of The Fifth World, which I discovered a few years ago and thought was an interesting project.
  6. Spirits. Tribe 8 gives Spirits the "just give them some stats" treatment, so I'd like to expand on  their capabilities quite a bit.
As for what to call this project...there's a long tradition of incorporating system name for Fate-based games:  Spirit of Vimary, Strands of Flesh and Spirit. Each one fits quite well. This time around I want to incorporate Fate into the name. Some possibilities include Fate of Flesh and Spirit, Fate of Vimary, or Tribe Fate. I've also considered naming it Rusted Sky in tribute to a website run by one of the Tribe 8 authors, or just falling back on my signature name, Dreams of Flesh and Spirit.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Flashback Friday: Starblade Battalion

Starblade Battalion is sort of an alternate Cyberpunk 2020 future, as a setting for Mekton Zeta. It had cybernetics, megacorporations, starships, mecha, pirates and planets with dinosaurs (kind of). The setting is about nearly two centuries after the events in CP2020. The Earth is environmentally ravaged and is ruled by a world government. The solar system has been colonized, and faster than light travel has allowed mankind to go to the stars. Of course, the evil corporations want to plunder and ravage the off world colonies while the government back home has become dominated by ecological zealots, and the colonists aren't getting a say in the matter either way. Needless to say, the situation isn't destined to end well.
Enter the Starblade Battalion, the Default PC Group. It's a rogue paramilitary organization made up of defectors from both sides plus the usual collection of misfits. Pirates, too. Without the pirates, we wouldn't have an excuse for the awesome crossbones-inspired mecha design. They've accumulated stolen and otherwise misappropriated ships, mecha, military hardware and even managed to abscond with the setting's equivalent of The Skunkworks so they can develop their own toys. Their mission is kind of humanitarian: protect innocent people from getting squashed in the fighting, and try get both sides to see how pig-headed they're being especially when millions of lives are at stake. 
The setting's mecha designs were somewhat reminiscent of SPT Layzner  There was also a terrifically cool concept called a cutter, where the mecha docks to the front of a small starship. It's reminiscent of the Legioss/Tread combination from Mospeada except the cutter is a ship capable of supporting a small crew, as opposed to another type of fighter. Cutters mount FTL drives and give the PCs a good class of ship for flitting around the universe in.
If one element in the setting didn't quite jive for me, it was the descriptions of the planets the off world colonies were on. I suppose for an anime-inspired game it's actually not that awful, but the planets seemed cartoony to me when I first read them. They included the old tropes of a desert planet, jungle planet, etc. One of them even had dinosaur analogs, if I remember right. Again, this isn't actually something that was a serious problem with the setting. Starblade Battalion wasn't meant to be hard science fiction, and Mass Effect's cardboard cutout planets don't ruin the series for me.
Overall, it was a nifty little setting for those that wanted a post-CP2020 feel for their games with mecha. These days it probably doesn't stand out quite so well in light of all the other games where Earth has suffered an ecological collapse and now the colonies are trying to get independence and everyone's worried about greedy corporations ruining outer space (Jovian Chronicles, Blue Planet) but Starblade Battlion still has a few hooks of its own to distinguish it. Mostly the mecha. Especially the mecha.
Finally, in case you're interested there was an extremely long-running Starblade Battalion fan fiction and a pretty extensive website that is surprisingly still up. I won't make any commentary as to the quality of the fan fiction. The website also had some concept sketches from the guy who drew the mecha (you can catch them from the Internet Archive). Starblade Battalion is also available in PDF from DriveThruRPG.