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.

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 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.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rifts: Buckets of fun in the New West o'rama

The other night I ran the first session of a Rifts campaign. I know! Right? Rifts!!!!!!

I set the game up about a week ago, as there was this longing in my soul to run the game. It was the first game I had ever played. See I had run games for three-ish years, but never played any. Needless to say that this caused some problems as I had no real way to judge my GMing chops. Then my friend Eli said he would run a game of Rifts for me and a few of our friends(and this one guy who just sort of hung out at the game store, no one really liked him, but he was in our game for some reason). The game was awesome, I played Yukon Cornelius, a dog boy with a sombrero and a corn cob pipe. He was awesome. True story. Anyway, that game is burned into my mind like giant radioactive rubber pants. The pants command me to run a game.

I sat down with only the vaguest of ideas for a campaign premise. But during the week something wonderful happened. Pinnacle announced that they have the rights to make Rifts books for Savage Worlds. After everyone checked to see if it was still April first, or if hell had frozen over, it was found to be a true statement. This is huge. HUGE!!!!!!!(extra exclamation points)

Anyway, the game started and we got some characters made and the setting built. The campaign will focus around a bunch of monsters from the Rifts and the Coalition each fighting over a small town in the rockies that would rather not be in the middle. Its going to be pretty sweet. I utilized some rules fixes I came up with to fixe some of the problems with Palladium's system. I made sure to announce them all quite loudly in the recording, should you wish to try them out. So far they seem to work well, though the number of skills is way to high.

Here is the recording should you wish to watch.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jake Reviews: Exemplars & Eidolons

I normally don't do reviews. Its not that I don't have opinions, but I generally prefer to avoid telling people what to play. That said, I have recently run into a game that I think is truly fantastic and I would like to recommend it. It is a free pdf so I feel OK about recommending it. If you like it, great. If you hate, nothing lost but a little time. So here goes, my first review, a review of Exemplars and Eidolons.

The Peritextual Elements
The cover art is decent, in that old school D&D style. I will admit, it did not draw me in at first. It is the kind of art that grows on you as time goes on. The internal art is solid, it is basically solid and appropriate(it is taken from a couple of open source art packs, so make of that what you will). The layout is purposefully in the style of the original D&D booklets and is designed to showcase how to do that layout. As such it is very fine. Simple and well laid out, no frills. By and large the peritextual elements of the game are solid and well thought out.

Game mechanics
Overall this is the slickest take on classic OSR based rules I have ever seen. It avoids much of the rules baggage I have seen in many OSR games. Each player rolls 4d6, drop the lowest, for their attribute(which are the standard fare. This is followed by writing down three facts about your character. Facts are a single sentence that defines a relationship, influence, or background about your character. When a fact applies to a given situation you gain a +4 to a given ability roll. to  Players then choose between one of three classes: Warrior, Rogue, or Sorcerer. Each grants the player a set of gifts. Gifts are special abilities and super powers. Players get two from their class and one from any list at level one. You then pick weapons, equipment, and write down effort and HPs. Effort is new, it is how one uses gifts and some magic spells. Leveling up is pretty slick, you may choose any class at the new level and can switch back and forth as you go. Every level grants an additional gift and some more HP. Sorcerers work a bit different than many OSR games, they can cast any of the spells at a level they have mastered, though only a couple per day, per level. You basically start out as a master magus and go up from there.

The die rolls are split between three types, ability checks, saves, and attack rolls. Abilities are rolled against with a roll under mode. Saves are also rolled under, though you add your level in appropriate classes to the appropriate saves. Attacks are rolled pretty much standard. Damage rolls are an interesting take. You roll the damage and compare it against a chart. The results will end up between 0 and 4 damage. Damage comes off of the player characters hit points and NPCs HD(this is pretty great as it lets you pull NPCs from most any OSR game and use them here with minimal fuss).

The other really spiffy mechanics are Wealth and Influence. As you are playing larger than life heroes you don't really have to worry about everyday money, in fact the game tells you to just allow players to get whatever incidental items they could reasonably want. Wealth represents serious riches, like dragon hoards and the like. You can spend it to get influence and other big things. Influence is quite possibly my favorite part of the game. The GM is encouraged to build a really big problem and a bunch of lesser problems. Each one of the lesser problems is worth a set amount of influence. You gain influence by doing great deeds, completing quests, using wealth and gifts. Once a minor problem is taken car of you gain XP, and when a major problem is dealt with you gain much more XP. It is a really slick system.

The setting is quite slim. Basically the game tells you to play larger than life heroes in a fantasy world and leaves the rest up to the group to decide. I kind of like that as I immediately thought up a bunch of scenarios and campaigns for the game. It has an intrinsic setting that is implied more than outright stated. I rather like this method, as it leaves room to play with the features in new and interesting ways.

Overall I rather like this game and, as it is free, I think it would be worth your time to check it out. At 48 pages it is not a heavy game, but it handles larger than life heroes rather well.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Trek to the Stars part 8:Character Creation

Character creation in Trek to the Stars is a bit more involved than I normally like to make. That said I think there is a lot of interesting things that can happen in a more involved character generation. I hope I am right in that, and not just kind of meandering at the mind. In this post I will be putting down the framework of character creation, step by step. For those just picking this series up, here is the precious posts:
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

Character Creation
To create a character for Trek to the Stars you start with the basic campaign template. Decide what sort of game you wish to play as a group. The game makes the assumption that you will all play members of a star ship crew travelling the space-lanes, taking colonists and cargo to and from the various outposts of human occupied space. However, if you wish to play a colonist, miner, or some other form of game the mechanics will allow that style of play.

Star Ship
Decide at this point weather or not your ship is registered with a government/organization. If you are registered that has some benefits and some downsides. If you are not, you remain free of outside influence, but that carries a lot of downsides as well. At this point choose a model of star ship from the list provided(no list at the moment, but I will have one in the final draft, for now just make up a cool sounding star ship) Also each player should write down one fact about the ship. Facts are one sentence descriptors that can enhance rolls during play.

Character Origins and Motivations
Next you choose an origin. Origins cover your birth planet/government, whether you are a baseline human or some variant, and your defining background events. You will choose one Origin Key that will be most important to your character. Following the origin you will choose a motivation. Motivation Keys are the driving force for your character in the moment. They are what you want, what you need. Check out part 5 of this series to get advice on building keys.

At this point you will also choose whether or not your character is a baseline human or something different. Currently I have only three types available, but my end goal is to increase that number to cover all the types I have discussed in previous posts. This is an area I am still heavily developing so any thoughts on this would be very welcome.

Baseline: you gain a character the first time in a session when your biology would cause a hindrance to you. when you spend a character point on a fact to gain an extra kept die you gain two extra kept dice instead.
Alpha: Increase your maximum dice in physical and mental categories by one and increase the rating of two skills within those categories by one. Gain a character point the first time in a session your biology would hinder your character.
Raven: The first time your biology would get in the way in a given session, gain a character point. You can fly at your running speed.

I am still working out how to do some of the human augmentation within the systems I currently have. Any thoughts on how to do enhancement within the system would be greatly appreciated.

You start out with 35 points to spread among the various skills. No skill can start higher than five dice. This may be not enough skill points(or it may be too many) for actual play. I feel that this works, but will need to run some tests to see if adjustment is needed. I am currently using the skill list I set down in part 2, so check that out for the current list.

Your character starts with three achievements. Achievements are specialties or talents within a given skill. Currently I do not have a bunch of names for specific achievements, but I do have a set of rules for creating them. An achievement can do one of the following:

  • Allow you to keep an extra die on a given roll(usually only in a given circumstance, though perhaps if you take it twice you can just increase the kept die for all rolls with the skill) 

  • Give you a minor unique ability of some sort or permission to use your skill in a new way(let you use a skill in the place of another skill within a defined field)

  • Increase the scale of the skill in a specific circumstance(I am still working on the specific effects of this and would love to hear any thoughts on what I can do with it) 

  • Increase effect or damage of a skill after the roll(basically you achieve success with style automatically on a success, you critically succeed when you succeed at all)

  • Character Points expenditures and advancement
    After character creation you can improve your character through the expenditure of character points to enhance a skill roll. The final character sheet will have a list of ten boxes set below the skill rating bubbles so you can easily track skill growth.
    10 character points gets you the next dot in a skill
    5 character points grants you an achievement(a specialization or ability within a given skill)
    2 character points grants you a fact(something like an aspect that is attached to the skill). These are the only character points you can spend on character advancement without spending them on enhancing a skill first.

    Finishing Touches
    Write down three facts about your character. One should be about their training and background. The other two should be about relationships or social duties your character has. These are very important as they allow you to increase the number of kept dice you can have on a given roll. These Facts also allow for a bit of niche protection and individualization of specialty. Also here is where you mark down any signature equipment and your physical description. And then you should be done...

    So far that is what I have for character creation. I would like to do a bunch of character creation and see if it stands up to repeated iterations. If any readers would like to build a character(or a bunch of them should the mood strike), I would like to see them, post or link in the comments. In fact I would love to hear any thoughts on this method for character creation. Let me know if you think it will work what areas are weak, and anything else you thought about it.