Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stars Without Number Session 3: Glaciers and Traitors

Our heroes begin the session in orbit over the planet Diego in the Raginhild system. They have a massive discussion on how to best approach the landing zone as it is in territory controlled by the Gou Yin Alliance and they are working for the Glinka Organization. After much arguing and discussion they made an attempt at a stelath approach. It was less than successful. The Pictoris nearly fell down a crevasse upon landing. After sorting taht out, they decided to use the crevasse to speed up excavation of the pretech city. the party split up, Ben and Merrak headed down the crevasse while Ardalia and Srinivasan stayed on board the ship. All sorts of things happened, it was very exciting. They had been detected on approach, see. And that led to some quick thinking and the development of a snow machine. Down in the crevasse the group discovered the item they were looking for, some sort of ominous pretech device. They managed to get out without being noticed, but on refueling in the Kitu system they discover that there is a kill order on the crew of the ship. Interestingly the kill order came from the Al-Yaldai Clan, what could this mean? Tune in next time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Trek to the Stars Part 11: Fashion in the stars

Previously on Trek to the Stars:
Initial thoughts
Part 1: The Pitch
Part 2: Skill roll basics
Part 3: Potential Campaigns
Part 4: History in brief
Part 5: Keys and Secrets
Part 6: Timeline and Technologies
Part 7: More technologies
Part 8: Character Creation(rough)
Part 9: Stress and Fallout
Part 10: Nailing down the core mechanics

This post is going to be a bit about the stuff at the edges. Things like fashion and a potential mechanical fix to the problems this system has been having with genetic engineering and cybernetics.

Fashion in the system
Fashion in the future is a diverse and divisive subject. Some cultures spend a great deal of time, energy, and resources on fashion and others seem to care about other things. Lets delve in, shall we?

Old Earth
Traditional ethnic garb is the direction the culture has embraced. This is viewed as a response the earth's waning power and relevance in the system. It is a call back to an earlier time, when earth controlled everything. Along with a desire to wear once traditional styles(or modern interpretations of ancient styles), there has been a rebirth of something approaching nationalism. Earthlings have begun to behave in a stereotypical manner,at least in public. If a person behaves outside of expected ethnic behaviors as dictated by the culture, they are viewed as a bit odd.

Venus
Within the sky cities of Venus even the slightest misstep can kill. The fashion is utilitarian, mostly. Most signs of individualism are small and do not get in the way of doing the job of terraforming the planet. Related to this attitude is the Venusian Honesty, Venusians have a reputation for being excessively blunt and humorless. This is not true, but in public strong displays of emotion are viewed as a sign of an untrustworthy person. Untrustworthy people get others killed.

Mars
A planet divided between two major powers and a small number of lesser groups. In the northern federation individuality is prized, on a superficial level anyway. While the public good is foremost in in the minds of everyone, the fashion and culture is one of individuals and trying to stand out, this is viewed as a good thing, encouraging the advancement of all. So long as the clothing falls within government safety and anti hatred standards(need a better name for this) a person can wear whatever they like and look however they want. Oddly enough, architecture is fairly utilitarian and brutalist. People living in great blocky archologies.

The fascists of the southern alliance have taken an interesting route in fashion. They aim for androgyny and cover most of the form in black, grey, or brown clothing. While at the same time jewelry has taken on a central role. One's jewelry will tell others what their job is, what power block they support, and what their rank within each organization is. Often it outsiders find it difficult to tell who is who, within the culture sameness is embraced.

The people of the centrally located Municipality of Eon have a tendency to wear loose clothing and sturdy footwear. All of their cities are designed so that the people can walk wherever they need to go, though bicycles are also quite popular. It is said, "An Eonist could walk to the sun," and they do take pride in their hiking and trekking capabilities. They control much of the major waterways of mars and the warmest region and they like to flaunt that. During the summer months they will wear the lightest clothing they can. While the nights can drop in temperature fairly significantly the days are quite warm, and every day the terraforming process thickens the atmosphere and normalizes the temperature a bit more.

Moons of Saturn
Baroque and complicated displays of wealth are the norm among the residents of Saturn's satellites. Even the lowest class person takes great pride in appearance and displaying what wealth they can. The art of the insult and sly comments are seen as a sign of great culture. Extravagance in all things, and the wealthy often have great public dinners where they provide food and door prizes for their whole population. The more often you can host one of these Family Meals, the greater your prestige and the more the others in your community owe you a debt. It is a complicated and intricate system that defies explanation by any but the most dedicated outsider.

SO that is what I have for the fashion among the stars. I could write about this for days, as there is no bottom to this well, but I just wanted to lay out some basics. I would love to hear any thoughts, comments or criticisms on this or any of the previous posts.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Stars Without Number: Adventures of the Pictoris

A little while back I started a campaign of Stars Without Number. We started with character creation and some setting creation work. By the end we have the Starship Pictoris, recently won in a game of cards by the new captain, Srinivasan Krishnatray. As of two days prior to the adventure start he was still putting a crew together. Merrak is the muscle for the ship, as well as being the ship's purser. Ardalia is the ship's pilot with a desire to find a way to help her planet rise from the ashes. Ben Holiday is a psychic and the ship's doctor. None of them know all that much about each other, or of the ship. I am sure that will never be a problem...
Here is the recording, should you want to watch:

Between character creation and the first session, I had to take a week off. Some things came up, don't want to get into it, but I had to miss a session. Anyway, during that week the players got together and discussed what they wanted to do as a crew and such. I am not privy to what went on in that psuedo-session, however I think it was good as it helped the crew meld, I guess.

Moving on. In the first session the characters are looking for work. They were docked in orbit around Halia, and logged into the Daybreak Society network to find a job. They decided to go with a simple retrieval mission for the Glinka Organization. After several arguments between the new crew as to whether to take the job, they agree. Merrak laid down some sweet negotiations and managed to get them 9,000 credits upfront and a potential 10,000 in bonus if they can bring everyone and everything back to Halia intact. After all the discussion as to whether to take the job, enter another long long discussion. This discussion is about how to spend the money they have received up front. The crew are still getting used to each other, and so are still getting to know each other and trust each other. Finally they agree to buy a bunch of things that would be useful for all the crew in the long run, a bunch of toolkits, communicators, and vacc suits. They buy them from one of the criminal contacts of Srinivasan.

The organization sends three technicians to the ship with some gear to gather up whatever artifact the corporation wants. As they drill through to the next system the crew attempts to get some clue as to the nature of the thing the techs are sent to retrieve. They find out some things, Merrak reveals that he used to work for the Glinka Organization as a security specialist, and Srinivasan discovers what kind of people his employers are. He discovers that the company is threatening the life and livelihood of the assistant to the two technicians. Through all of this, they discover nothing much about the artifact they were sent to retrieve. The session ends with the ship arrived in orbit over the planet Diego, preparing to go down and retrieve the object in question.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Trek to the Stars part 10: An Interlude of Mechanical Endeavor

Previously on Trek to the Stars:
Initial thoughts
Part 1: The Pitch
Part 2: Skill roll basics
Part 3: Potential Campaigns
Part 4: History in brief
Part 5: Keys and Secrets
Part 6: Timeline and Technologies
Part 7: More technologies
Part 8: Character Creation(rough)
Part 9: Stress and Fallout

This is going to be a bit of a repeat of some of the stuff I wrote in previous posts, as well as some broadening and redefinition of the ideas presented. I had some issues with how the dice rolled were kept, and overall I still have some issues. This will be a really mechanically heavy post, but I will try and keep it concise and...who am I kidding? I will just sort of ramble like I normally do and eventually something that might work will come out.

Trek to the Stars: Mechanical Interlude
Basic Dice Rolling
You describe what actions your character takes, reacting to and acting upon the world as the GM describes it. When you encounter a situation with great import or significant chance of interesting failure you must roll dice to see if, and how well, your succeed at overcoming the situation. In other words, decide what you want to do/achieve and then consult the rules if they are needed. When asked to roll the dice you gather up a pool of six sided dice equal to your rating in the relevant skill and decide on the approach you are using(current approaches are physical, mental, and social). Dice rolling should only occur when both success and failure are interesting results. You roll these dice against a difficulty set by the GM and told to you at this point. You then roll the dice from your skill. You then will pick out a number of dice equal to your rating in the chosen approach. If you can pick out dice that, when added together, are higher than the difficulty set by the GM then you succeed at your intent. If you roll lower than the difficulty you either directly fail, or the scene becomes more complicated and dangerous by your success. Should get exactly the difficulty, that is a critical success and it means really good things, depending on the skill and the scene.

Let it Ride
Once you have rolled for a given skill in a given situation that roll stands until the situation changes significantly. No rerolls(unless you have a secret that lets you reroll) or trying again. Think carefully on spending your resources, you won't get a second chance.

Character Points
Your character will have a variable number of character points that you can spend on a given roll. Each point spent on a roll lets you roll an extra die or keep one more or one less die that you roll. You gain Character points though Keys and through failure. If you keep rolled ones you also gain a number of Character points equal to the number of ones you keep. When you spend Character points to increase a roll, you also place an experience point on that skill equal to the number of character points spent. I am a little uncertain on what to call Character points as I am not a huge fan of the name. However I am not really sure what else to name them.

The Time In Which Things Occur
Trek to the Stars divides up time into various increments. In fact time is separated into two types, character time and game time. Character time is the time it takes for a character to do a thing. It can fluctuate rapidly and jump back and forth at the whim of the story. Game time is divided thusly. A scene is the amount of time it takes to deal with a given interaction or complication. It is variable in length, but once the interaction or complication is over, the scene is done. A Scenario/Adventure is a series of interconnected scenes. They are bound by characters and a general goal. Once that goal is no longer viable(whether through success or failure), the scenario is over. A campaign is a series of Scenarios that may or may not be connected by a through line or goal. I am currently debating whether to use a smaller increment than scenes, called rounds. If I go with rounds that would start to focus the game on task based resolution, which is totally a way to go, but I am uncertain if it is a way I want to go with it.

Approaches
I had a bit of a breakthrough the other day when I was working on the character creation. The skill list alone doesn't really work well. Back when I first outlined the rough skill system I mentioned using something like approaches from Fate Accelerated. Now I have expressed my dissatisfaction with using Approaches before, but I think I have a way around my issues with that. I went back and forth on a bunch of different ways to frame the actions implied within the skills. I thought about using Approaches directly, and I may still give that a go. However I came across an idea in Cortex Plus that I liked. You break down the actions by the situation as it arises. Currently I am using Physical, Mental, and Social as my Approaches for keeping dice. That does feel a bit Task-ish to me though so I am open to ideas on improving the ideas herein. I also think that, unlike skills, approaches should max out at five. You start with one at 1 and two at 2 for a starting character. They improve as skills do, but they require more experience to improve than a skill would. This is because you will always be using one of the three approaches. The number of dice you keep has been a running issue with this game for me. I am close here, very close, to something really playable.

Stress and Fallout
Player Characters have access to a stress track that allows them to mitigate fallout. Rather than taking a hit(or failing) they can take stress(two stress to mitigate a critical hit or whatever). Every point of stress you gain removes a die from your skill rolls, with one major exception. Your character must pick a type of approach to specialize in. When using that specialized Approach gain a die for every point of stress you take. However, once you have taken all you stress you begin taking fallout. Fallout is very bad stuff. You do not want Fallout. Fallout subtracts from the dice you can keep. It is very very bad. Stress returns after a brief rest period, just have a scene where the characters are resting or doing non stressful things. Fallout is more serious. I am working on recovering from fallout, but am a bit uncertain on how to do it. I want it to draw players deeper into adventure, you know? I see it as driving play in someway. Sort of a call to action. Maybe each bit of Fallout acts as a Key in someway? I am still digging into this. More to come on this.

As you can see I am rapidly approaching playtestabilty(well, official playtests, you know what I mean. I have been playing around with this for a bit on a local level, but I need to see it in the wild to really get it). I would love to hear any thoughts, critiques, or comments on this. Let me know what you think. Even if I don't use your ideas, hearing differences of opinion stimulates the mind.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Dad

Let me tell you about my dad. My dad is pretty darn impressive. He showed me what it meant to be a man-what true humility and hard work meant. What do I say about my father, though? I mean, how to begin, you know? I guess I should start at the beginning, then. I hear its a very good place to start.

Memories are funny things. Some folks have these really crystal clear memories of events, you know? Like who was where at what time and what happened when, that sort of thing. Me? My memories are oddly specific and yet kind of vague. I will remember odd details with perfect clarity, yet forget when a thing happened, or what happened after. I also remember emotions far more than specific events. So lets get to it.

My earliest memory of my dad is of his laughter. My dad has this kind of explosive laugh. It's like it catches him by surprise. Normally he'll just sort of silently chuckle when he is laughing, but every now and again when something is really funny he'll just let out this massive exhalation of air and sound. It is not the loudest laugh or anything, but it is like a wave of laughter, sudden and steady. He's a funny guy, my dad. Sarcasm and ironic turns of phrase are the name of the game with my dad. My mom won't even watch a movie with the two of us because we will be going full MST3K during dang near every movie. I know it is a cardinal sin to talk during movies, but what can I say? My dad and I are hilarious, and we are even funnier when watching a movie together.

My other early memories of my dad are of work and precision. I must have been around two years old, and my mom took me and my brother out to see my dad at work. My dad worked in insulation at this time. You know, with the big hoses and pumping it into the holes in the wall. It was a hot day, and those were long hours of work. My dad did that, or jobs like that my whole life. Not insulation, mind you, but hard work and long hours. I never heard him complain about the work, though. He would come home exhausted and sit down in our plaid chairs(seriously, we had these square blue plaid chairs and couches, why do I remember that) and just sigh. It was a long low sigh, a tired sigh. When I went out in the world and began doing real work, I learned all about what that sigh means. That is the sigh of a man who was so tired it drained the strength from his bones. I never heard my dad complain. Not once.

He worked third shift as a prison guard, worked as a farmer, worked as all sorts of things. Hard work. Then he would come home and work on his hobbies. Saturdays and Sundays he would play piano for hours. The whole house would vibrate to the songs he would play. I never really liked music. Its never been my thing, yeah? My father is the reason that I can tell good music from bad, skilled performances from amateurs and posers. He would get oddly focused on hobbies and such as well.

One Saturday, while my mom was out of town for one reason or another, my dad took it into his head to learn to make naan bread. He spent the whole day making dough and cooking it at various speeds, trying to get it just right. Then there was the time he decided that he, my brother Aaron, and I were going to build a sailboat. We spent a whole summer putting the boat together. It was hot work and, at the time, I was not a fan of it. Out in the sun all day building something I had no real understanding of. But looking back, there was a lot being taught there. A lot of stuff my dad taught me was indirect. He showed me how to be, rather than telling me how to be.

I don't know if this rambling tale is coming together in any meaningful way, but the point is this. It is Father's Day, and I would like to thank my dad. He taught me how to live an upright life and how to have fun even in the midst of hardship. He allowed me to express my thoughts, but never let me be lazy in my thought processes. He lived his life the way he wanted his sons to live theirs. So here is to my dad, and all other dads who deserved praise and never got it.

Thanks pop.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Trek to the Stars part 9: Damage Done

Initial thoughts
Part 1: The Pitch
Part 2: Skill roll basics
Part 3: Potential Campaigns
Part 4: History in brief
Part 5: Keys and Secrets
Part 6: Timeline and Technologies
Part 7: More technologies
Part 8: Character Creation(rough)

I should be dong other things right now. I have so much on my plate that it seems there are not enough hours in the day. However on my drive up to the family homestead I had what amounts to an epiphany. See, i had been having trouble with my damage system. I didn't really want to have damage just be damage. The way I prefer to run and play games lends it self to a more abstract system than the standard damage style mechanics. I also wanted to do more with stress and damage than just use it as a pacing mechanic. I am a fan of how fallout works in Dogs in the Vineyard. How it is the only real way to advance and so it encourages a certain style of play. As I already have an advancement mechanic that I am a fan of, I am thinking of doing something  little different with this.

Every character has a stress track that represents nonlethal hits, near misses, and anything that gets your heart rate up. Stress is what you take when you are not actually accumulating fallout. Fallout is any lasting effects that might come from a conflict. These would work a bit like consequences in Fate...maybe. I have still not nailed down exactly how fallout will work in play, though I do have a couple of ideas I would like to use. Fallout will grant character points in some way, currently I am leaning toward something approaching a compel or an antagonistic invoke. That said I did have another idea for fallout that might work, but I am still figuring out how to do it. Basically fallout would grant dice to the GM that they can then use against the group...somehow. I would love to hear any thoughts on how to deal with fallout.

Now lets talk about something that I am quite excited about, stress(might want to come up with a better name for this, any ideas?). See the more stress you take the closer to taking fallout you get, but the more powerful your skills become. I got the idea from two places, 13th Age, Lacuna Part 1, and Die Hard. See Die Hard is one of my favorite movies, it is just brilliant. Anyway, throughout the movie John McClain gets more and more beat up and yet as the movie goes along he gets better at taking out the bad guys. I had been playing with the idea of a damage system that made you more effective the more damage you took. However I could not really figure out how to make that interesting, until I read through Lacuna Part 1, which had this absolutely brilliant Heartbeat mechanic. Basically you have a sweet spot for your heart beat, lower than that and you are not at full efficiency, higher and you are at risk of heart attack or stroke(or something). This sweet spot idea really fit well with my silly Die Hard thoughts. So the idea moved forward a bit, now there would be a sweet spot in the damage track that would grant bonuses to your actions. However it just kind of stopped there for a couple years, as I couldn't really think of what to do with it, now that I had it. Jump back to a couple weeks ago. I went to my first Miscon, and managed to play quite a bit of 13th Age. In that dame they have this interesting idea called the Escalation Die. What it does is speeds up play, the longer a fight goes, the bigger the die gets and the quicker you can take out the bad guys. This is a really interesting idea. The idea basically gets rid of the long slog in a fight, and as it only really effects player characters(and a few kinds of creatures, but only in minor ways).

So here is how I see stress working. It is a track that you can mark off before fallout, every level of stress you take will add to the effects of your die rolls. For combat, this is easy, just add in a level of damage(or a die, or whatever) for every stress you take. For other rolls in a conflict it gets a little weird. I am still working on how to deal with that sort of situation. Basically this would encourage players to take risks and grant them an edge that will speed of the conflict's resolution.

Now I need to sort out recovery of stress and recovery of fallout, but that is the idea as it stands right now. I would love to hear any of your thoughts on the subject. How you think it will play, and all that. I do think I am nearly close enough to write up a beta test document and get some external play tests taken care of. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Rifts: BOFITNWOR part 2!

Hey all, I know it has been a while since my last post. I am sorry for that. I have been working on a lot of stuff recently and so my blog kind of fell by the wayside. To those of you who have followed my progress(and thank you much for your patience and support), I am still working on Trek to the Stars. I hit a bit of a snag dealing with the combat pacing mechanics and so that has been slow going of late. I am also finishing up a beta draft of Where the Antelope Play, which should be ready in about a month(ish). So that is exciting. I am finishing up the Jadetech series of books and all the text should be done by teh end of the month. Finally I am working on something for the Fate Codex, and I am very excited about it. I will let you all know when that gets closer to complete. As I said I have been busy. I also recently attended my first Miscon, and I had a blast. I fully intend on going back next year and running some games. Its going to be great, heck maybe I will be running a bunch of my games.

That said, I guess it would be a good time to talk about the next session of Rifts I ran for +Cameron Corniuk and +Bill Garrett. it was a few weeks back, but I think it is still relevant, It was pretty fun. I am utilizing a couple of rules fixes and tweaks in order to make the game run smoother. That said, the skill system is still pretty weak. The problems with the skills are twofold, there are too many of them and they are missing several key skills. I know right? How does that even? You know? I will break it down for you. The main Rifts book(not Ultimate edition, which has even more skills...like three times as many, seriously) has 128 skills listed. 128! For reals. So when I am using my simplification of the rules I still run into a problem. On average my players have something like 26 skills each. 26, out of 128, for reals. It means that in any given situation, there will most likely be a lack of skills. On the other end, you would think that with that many total skills there would be at least be a comprehensive list, yet there are large gaps in the skills. Things like persuasion and such are sadly lacking. In fact most of the skills revolve around combat and recovering from combat. Some skills are really difficult to get and some are so pointless as to never really be taken. In fact the more useful a skill is, the more difficult it seems to be to get. I really don't get the design choices in this game sometimes. On a related tangent, there are no rules describing how to use skills or anything. Not really relevant in my game, as I revamped the skills system, but man, that is just weird, right?

In this session our heroes set out to defend their town from this new invasive threat.They stuck around the cabin and searched for clues. There was some tree climbing and some sensor usage and they discovered a nasty new threat, and killed it. However it was not alone, there were many more and they were coming one. I interacted with Rifts' burst fire rules for the first time. Holy crap! that makes guns so very very dangerous. Seriously, I played Palladium games for nearly a decade and I had never used these rules. They increase the lethality significantly. After that, they headed back to town to discuss it with the people of Paradise. After some discussion they headed out to scout the area and get those who want it to the relative safety of town. Camden tried to convince his folks to head to town, but they were not having any of it. They convince the old wizard who lives in the hills north of town to come and help. They also had to try and deal with the representatives of both the Blackfoot and the Salish nations, who were in town for purchasing lizard meat. They made a deal for magic weapons from the Salish, and made a deal to defend the town's retreat, should they lose, with the Blackfoot. Leo gets that second concession by defeating the leader in a boxing match. It was epic, like Rocky vs. Drago...if Rocky had no muscles. Seriously, I think this is my favorite moment. You gotta see it, It's awesome.