Sunday, August 16, 2015

How I Generate Systems, Part II: Fleshing Out Betelgeuse Q.

Now it's time to finish this place up and make it playable. Our final results will be down at the bottom of the post. Again, this is going to be pretty long!

Going in no particular order:

Orbital VII, The Refueling Station deserves stats and numbers and so forth. We're going to build it as a Bannerjee Model 12 (Mandate Archive: Bannerjee Construction Solutions.) I'm going to go ahead and say it's a human operation, in order to give the PCs a place in the system where they can comfortably take a break and so forth. It's not going to have a whole lot of a market, exactly, but enough to move a ton of goods here and there, and resupply ships that are passing through. I think there will be some very small human colonies on the moons around Orbital V (1d6-1=4), but generally not big enough to be points of interest themselves. This is growing beyond just being a "refueling station," but I'm okay with that. We do need some NPCs here, although the human population isn't very large. So let's throw a few out. Let's say one leader type who is a warrior. One criminal contact who is an expert. One humanitarian type who is there to appeal to the PCs' better natures. I think there's room for one alien, as well, but I'm going to leave that blank. Figure out what alien civs are in your campaign, and put one of their agents on it. Remember the secret to making good NPCs! Every NPC should either have something they need from the PCs or something the PCs need from them. Preferably both, preferably in conflict with other NPCs.

Orbital V, Rocky Core Gas Giant: As I established while fleshing out the refueling station, there are four moons here with at least some inhabitation. I don't need to figure them out right now, because they aren't points of interest. None of them will have more than a few thousand people or a tech base of higher than TL4, because the whole point is they're under the thumb of the refueling station. I'm going to make a few rolls about the "Colonies" here. I guess I'm just creating a point of interest out of whole cloth, but you get to do that when you're the GM! Okay, it's a roughly earth-sized moon. Now we switch over to SWN core, in the world tags chapter. Page 86. Atmosphere is breathable, it's temperate, but has no native biosphere. So, all the plant and animal life is stuff they brought with them. Fifty thousand people. TL2: 19th century technology. Feral World (!!!). So we know a few things about this place, now. Try to interpret that on your own, and then see below to see how I interpret it.

Military Space Station: Exactly how heavily armed this thing is is going to depend on your individual campaign. Here is what I would say. It can deploy up to 20 fighter craft at once, and has onboard facilities to repair and even put out a new one every now and again. The craft are automated attack craft. Smarter than a normal automated guard robot, but not by a lot. Definitely not a true AI. Although the space station might be. It's hard to say, it doesn't seem chatty. It also has a couple frigate-sized automated craft that it can use to retrieve wrecked fighters, or ships that the fighters wrecked, in order to extract spare parts. They wouldn't be heavily armed. It may not deploy all of its fighters at once, either. That way it can avoid feints.

The Science World I finally figured out. What I noticed, looking over this star system, is that I had lots of forested worlds, lots of places with different atmospheres, but still with life. Why is that? What story does that tell? So, I think the science world was dedicated to terraforming technology. And the easiest way to terraform a world, theoretically, is to design life-forms to do it for you. That makes perfect sense and could never go wrong in any way! So, this moon contained a complex of sleek and futuristic laboratories for examining xenoflora and xenofauna from a hundred worlds. They were studied, their genes mapped, and re-engineered into forms that would allow them to be the ultimate invasive species. You drop a few tons of them off on a world, and they go crazy tearing up the local ecosystem, changing things to better suit...whatever. And you don't want any pesky native life managing to exterminate them, so they need to have substantial natural defenses. Or be stealthy. or both. It's also possible they might have accidentally created some biological terror weapons. Ooops! In any event, the forest worlds here are all the results of different strains of atmosphere-modifying tree colonies, adapted to change a planet's gas mixture in the same way. The science world itself is overrun by horrifying bioengineered monsters. The fun thing is, they are the treasure. If you can catch them and put them in captivity, you could in fact use them to terraform worlds over the course of a few generations. It might be kind of tricky to get rid of them when you're done, is all.

The Gaian World and its ruins basically write itself once I know what's going on.

The Forest World is also pretty obvious. It used to have its own biosphere, which I will leave as an exercise to the individual GM how to figure out. It was used as a testing ground for forests intended to terraform planets into having an earth-normal atmosphere.

Our last big project is the Moon Prison. This is where we need Dead Names, because I'm not saying it was aliens...but it was aliens.

Now, we know something of what we're going to end up with. It's a prison planet inside a moon. I would say this is probably larger than a typical "dungeon" because it's a prison world, and not just ruins of a prison. It may be different in your campaign, though! Maybe you want bite-sized dungeons set up for just a session or two, one on each planet in a system. That's okay, too. In any event, we're going to start rolling up a species in Dead Names. Now, are they going to be the prison guards? Or the prisoners? I'm not sure yet. We won't know until we go on. I personally like the idea of diverging into Silent Legions and making what they are imprisoning be some high-supernatural awfulness, but we'll see where it takes us.

The first step for an aliens species is to determine their Madness. What makes them different and incomprehensible? Their Madness is Beauty: "All life is directed toward the creation of beauty in form, action, and meaning." At first I'm tempted to reroll that, but what the hell. Let's go with it, see where it takes us. Their madness intensity is Triggered: It becomes an overwhelmingly strong reaction in the face of some specific stimulus. Its motivation is Intrinsic, it is a consequence of their basic nature. These are all tables in Dead Names, by the way.

I think I'm going to make them Extraterrestrials, which means they are just basic aliens, rather than being synthetic life created by someone else, transhumans, or metadimensional beings. Their original purpose in coming here was as a scholarly conclave. Huh. What if this species didn't build the prison? What if they came to study it, and then either became trapped, or found themselves obligated to become the new jailers and contain whatever horror was inside? I came up with curious researchers into ancient eras of this world. Yeah, that could go in pretty much any direction.

Now let's figure out their shape and appearance. Double 18s. Generally humanoid, no especially pronounced motif. We'll keep going on to further tables and see what suggests itself to us. In the first set of tables, I roll 5, 1, 1, 1. So, they've got a sort of a beetle-like aspect, but have humanlike teeth and fingers, and walk upright. Umm. I'm not sure how horrifying these guys are going to be. Let's keep rolling. I decide I want to know what their skin is like, and what they sound like when they talk. They have soft skin like a human (again) and have rasping voices. So, how exactly are they beetle-like, I wonder? They prefer hot, sandy deserts and smell like cinnamon. I'm going to go ahead and say that they have a sort of wing-like carapace on their back, like a beetle. I haven't decided if they can fly or not yet. Might as well say they have antenna, too. So we can note that they have a superhuman sense of smell, I suppose. I am going to roll for their aesthetics, since their sense of beauty is so important. They were colored mists for clothing (maybe controlled with a sort of magnetic or force field? Interesting), feed on energy (evolved to be partially solar powered? Maybe their wing-carapaces are like solar cells?), and their aesthetics involves a lot of flowing lines and circles.

I'm going to just roll on the table for their name. They're known as the Old Kings. Suggests they were the dominant life-form wherever they were from, I suppose.

Dead Names includes a method for figuring out, in general, the history of an alien race. Let's take a crack at it for the Old Kings. I don't want to roll out their whole backstory (although you might, if you want to make them an ongoing faction in your campaign), so we'll just see how they got into this particular mess. You do this by figuring out what obstacle they were trying to overcome, how they overcame it, and how that decision planted the seed of ruin for the next crisis. If you do this for multiple eras, they lead into each other to create tragic dramas, hopefully eventually ending on the shores of lost Carcosa or similar.

1d20;1d10 → [10] = (10)
1d20;1d10 → [8] = (8)
1d20;1d10 → [19] = (19)
1d20;1d10 → [8] = (8)

They were (obstacle to overcome) relying on ancient infrastructure that wore out. They overcame this by exploring, attempting to find a solution elsewhere. However, the seed of ruin was a desire to know maddening truths of reality, which festered due to the machinations of an outside foe.

Okay, now I've got it. They require an energy source unique to their original sun, which was becoming old and entering a new phase. They came here to this place searching for a way to survive, something to save their dying race. However, they have been slowly twisted by the prisoner, which is offering them forbidden knowledge if they will free it. I think I'll end up with a variation on that.

Now, let's roll on their culture. I haven't actually decided how many of them there are. Their name suggests they might have long lifespans, though, so even if they've been here a long time they might not have population problems exactly. They have ideological rule by the faction leaders (sensible enough), and are...actually friendly towards outsiders. I guess they aren't actually mustache-twirling villains (antenna-twirling villains?), they're just doing what they need to do to survive. 

Cultural values: They value beauty and grace. It is considered terrible for them to not be productive, and laziness is a source of immense shame. They have faith-based groupings instead of families (maybe like a prayer-group, or maybe something like a ka-tet, people that are just chosen to be together?), and their temperament is relentlessly curious. So, they will get up in the PCs' grill about stuff. If the GM is feeling puckish, asking provocative questions in-character about the PCs beliefs or history might prove interesting. It's basically a way of simultaneously roleplaying an alien species and getting the players to think about how their character thinks of themselves. Don't overdo it, but have some fun.

To Be Continued: In our next and final chapter, we figure out what's going on with the Old Kings and the prisoner. This is going to involve Silent Legions!

Close to Final Results: Betelgeuse Q

White Dwarf Star: Collapsed dwarf stars that have cast off their outer layers as a surrounding planetary nebula, leaving only the very small, dim ball of cooling plasma at their center. Worlds around them are often rather cold, and even in daylight the stars still shine around it and the sky is very dark.

Orbital I: Normal Gravity Forest World, Oxygen Atmosphere. Has a Moon Prison. The prison has a gaian interior with a nitrogen atmosphere. The outside is rocky and has no atmosphere to speak of. There are still aliens in here

Orbital II: Low-G Gaian World, CO2 atmosphere. Ruined Cities. No intelligent life. I'm going to go ahead and say that the population here was human. They were poisoned when invasive trees from the bio-lab were released into their ecology (by whom? for what purpose?) and turned the planet's atmosphere poisonous. They couldn't react quickly enough to survive. The planet was on the cool side of temperate (it's probably warmer now due to the greenhouse effect) with a native biosphere immiscible with human life. Well, I guess they tried to fix that. At its height, it had 80,000 inhabitants. They had TL4 technology, so it's sort of an open question why they couldn't deal with the invasive plants. In a literal sense, if they spread rapidly and were intentionally seeded across wide areas of the planet, it might have been hard to impossible to drive them off. However, they might have had time to build arcologies or something. Maybe they were resource poor, maybe infighting and civil war collapsed their society? Therefore, one of the world tags is going to be Civil War. Pick the second one for your campaign, just in case your PCs decide to go down there in their vacc suits and hunt for surviving treasures. Finding long-abandoned computer banks and going back through them to figure out the last days of these people, who died fighting each other while they choked on their planet's changed atmosphere, might be kind of depressing.

Orbital III: Liquid Water Core, High Gravity Gas Giant with Lots of Moons. One of them is full of abandoned and highly dangerous scientific facilities! There is also a forest world moon with an oxygen atmosphere and another forest world moon with a nitrogen atmosphere. Examination by anyone with an eye for botany will let the adventurers discover that the forests here, and on Orbital I and II, are all basically the same species of trees. They've just been genetically modified to change the gas mixture of their host planet in different ways. None of them are natives, and it goes without saying that they've turned the worlds toxic to whatever the original native life used to be. The laboratory facilities, which went on for miles and miles, are now absolutely overrun with crazed bio-engineered horrors of every type. Open up the old D&D monster manuals, and just pick some crazy shit out. The thing is, though, they actually have the purpose of being terraforming engines. Most of them have certain genetic "keyholes" built in, so that if you know what to look for you can easily design a virus that will wipe out that specific species. So it's easy to clean up when you're done! This information is hidden in whatever is left of the computer banks. The PCs might find that out, and what these things are for, if they can avoid having their heads ripped off.

It is probably fairly obvious by now that QVX-507 was put in place after this lab collapsed, because the lifeforms down there are tremendously dangerous and are therefore under quarantine.

Just as a sample way of running the forests, I might say that they aren't really trees, they just look like them. They're a colony organism that tends to kind of look like trees. You want to get a mass of them weighing twenty tons or so, including the dirt they're in, and plant that wherever. They tolerate a wide variety of temperatures, elevations, light levels, humidity ranges, and soil types. Once you get that initial population planted, they'll expand outward rapidly,  and do an effective job of strangling native life. Think lots of vines and roots crawling outward as quickly as a meter a day, and growing up trunks and thicker bodies wherever there's room. However, they don't produce seeds, spores, or pollen.

Orbital IV: Military Deep Space Station. Uninhabited, sends out automated attack ships if anyone tries to enter the inner system without authorization codes, which nobody knows. It identifies itself as Mandate Base QVX-507, demands access codes, warns off intruders with plenty of time for them to turn around, and attacks if anyone crosses its orbit. It has some defensive gun emplacements, but more importantly it can launch automated attack craft. If it were up to me, I'd make them 20 fighters: Half have multifocal lasers and drive-1s, the other half have reaper batteries and drive-2s. They are all atmosphere-capable.The autofighters have vehicle/space skill of 1 (for an AC of 3), a Computer skill of 1, and attack at +3. The station's intelligence has an effective computer skill of +3, for when it needs to attempt to spot vessels in the system. It is smart enough not to send all of its craft if there might be a feint attempt against it, and it can learn from prior encounters with the same intruders. It is smart enough to do things like set traps! It might, for example, have the fighters land on a planet and power down, if it thinks some ship might try to evade it and approach that planet. Then they could all come boiling up in ambush. Don't let your players get cocky.

Orbital V: Rocky Core Gas Giant, dense hydrogen atmosphere. Basically boring. One of the moons has a small colony that is serviced by the refueling station in the ice belt. The colony, Neo-London, existed before the scream and descended into total savagery. The long, icy nightmare times twisted their society into a masterpiece of sadism. Then the commander of the Refueling Station came along, and made contact with the rulers. He sold them TL4 goods necessary to revamp their society, in return for...considerations. The refueling station is now a route for smuggling slaves, illegal drugs, and other goods that can be manufactured at a large scale without high technology. In return, they received black box fusion cores (Suns of Gold, pg. 67). They have remote shutoff switches, and if the colonies don't keep a steady pack of supplies coming, then the lights, and the heat, goes off again. He also provides TL4 medicine and weapons to the mad aristocrates of Neo-London. I would personally take this in a crazy steampunk direction, because I like the idea of guys in tophats and cyber-monocles, with a huge TL4 hydroponics apparatus built of local brass fittings. Ooooh! Walking sticks with shock prods built in them, to punish unruly servants! I know steampunk is overdone, but you can make it work if you want. And it isn't really steampunk, it's not like they're making AIs out of clockwork. It's just an intermingling of local culture with high-tech imports. For your use here, I'll reprint the Feral World stuff, taken from the SWN core. Seriously, these things are fucking amazing, it's like a bag of bite-sized plot hooks. You should actually have two world tags for each world; I suggest you pick the second one yourself, to make this more unique and fit in with the tone of your campaign.

Feral World
In the long, isolated night of the Silence, some worlds have experienced total moral and cultural collapse. Whatever remains has been twisted beyond recognition into assorted death cults, xenophobic fanaticism, horrific cultural practices, or other behavior unacceptable on more enlightened worlds. These worlds are almost invariably classed under Red trade codes.
  • Enemies: Decadent noble, Mad cultist, Xenophobic local, Cannibal chef, Maltech researcher
  • Friends: Trapped outworlder, Aspiring reformer, Native wanting to avoid traditional flensing
  • Complications: Horrific local “celebration”, Inexplicable and repugnant social rules, Taboo zones and people
  • Things: Terribly misused piece of pretech, Wealth accumulated through brutal evildoing, Valuable possession owned byluckless outworlder victim
  • Places: Atrocity amphitheater, Traditional torture parlor, Ordinary location twisted into something terrible.
Just view all that through the lens of fake 19th-century England. Steam train covered in bronzed human skulls! TL4 compad hidden in a pocketwatch!

I would definitely make into named NPCs the guys who go back and forth between Neo-London and the Rim Bazaar. I figure they've got a free merchant or patrol boat rigged up. They don't need a LOT of cargo space. They're just bringing back and forth food, slaves, drugs, whatever you want there to be.

Orbital VI: Glass World with Monuments. There used to be a civilization here, which was destroyed utterly due to volcanic activity. The entire place is now a maze of razor-sharp obsidian and other dangerous hazards. There's a labyrinth carved into the surface by highly precise orbital laser welding, made by parties unknown. No one has ever found anything valuable in there, it seems to be nothing more than a place to walk and meditate on those peoples lost to history.

Orbital VII: Ice Belt with Refueling Station. The refueling station is a trade depot and haven for unsavory types. The very first time they visit, someone should warn them about trying to cross into the inner system. Tales of the many adventurers past who were chewed to pieces by automated fighter craft will probably make a difference.

  • The refueling station is known as the Rim Bazaar. It's a Bannerjee Model 12 with the following stats: Armor 5. HP 120. Crew 20/600. AC 9. Power: 34/50. Mass 40/40. Hardpoints 10. Fittings: Extended Life Support x2, Hydroponics, Workshops, Fleet Fuel Tanks + Fuel Scoops (stats are as per the book, but in this case it works completely differently. The station sends out automated miner robots, which brink back chunks of ice from the belt, and the station processes them into fuel. So, it can produce 10 units of fuel per day, with a maximum capacity of 30. See Skyward Steel for rules.) 2x Flak Emitter Battery, 1x Spinal Beam Cannon. 16,000 tons cargo space. Typical inhabitation is actually about 350-400, depending on who is on shore leave out at the Colonies. 
  • I would make a commander/owner that was around a seventh-level warrior. Give him some interesting traits, and things he wants/needs from the PCs and that they want/need from him. I would suggest that he wants people to spend money/trade things and then move on. He wants replacement parts, materials, maybe medical supplies. He wants some troublemakers shut up. He might know details of the system that he won't let go of without serious consideration.
  • Alien Representative: Figure out an alien civilization that is within a couple jumps in your campaign. One of their representatives is here, and she's up to something.
  • You want at least one person here, maybe a fifth-level expert, who is too valuable/beloved for the commander to get rid of, but who wants things to change. They want things improved for the colonies. Make them really opposed to violence, so the PCs can't shoot their way into their favor. Give them some valuable information that they won't give up without concrete gains towards their goals. Or maybe they have money, or a valuable artifact. I find that PCs will work a lot harder for a piece of unique pretech than they will for the amount of money they could sell it for.
  • Fill in a couple locations on the station that you can use as recurring set-pieces. I'd put in a cafe, a scrapyard/junk reclamation site, a pawn shop, and maybe something for entertainment. Pit-fighting tournaments every Tuesday and Friday?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

How I Generate Systems: Part I

The Stars Without Number default seems to be that a system has maybe one point of obvious interest in it. I like my star systems to be substantially denser than that, and to feel like real places. I'm going to show you guys how I do that, with an example of star system generation. I hope that this is instructive. It's going to be long. When I'm done, though, I'll have a ready-to-use star system that you can drop into your own campaign if you like.

Books used: Stars Without Number core, Dead Names, Hulks & Horrors, maybe a little bit of Silent Legions.

Step 0: Basic Principles

Do not be a slave to the tables. Tables are for inspiration and randomization, they aren't a substitute for creativity and they aren't a straightjacket. Reroll results you don't like. If you're rolling on three D10 tables, roll 3d10 and assign the results as you see fit. Skip tables if you're getting enough detail; Dead Names especially can tell you more than you need to know.

Also, I have certain biases that affect how I interpret the tables, so I'll talk about them some as we go. I don't think 1 in 8 systems should be a black hole, for example, so I reroll stuff like that and use it if I hit the same roll again. (This is similar to the Double Dragon house rule in B/X, where if you get a dragon as a wandering monster you reroll, and use a dragon if it comes up again.)

My personal campaign is, I think, a lot more low-rent than the standard. The Mandate wasn't quite as powerful or as wide-ranging. The Scream was more destructive to technology, not just human psychics. The fall was really hard. A lot more colonies died out or reverted to lower tech levels. There weren't really scavenger fleets keeping communication alive. Things are just now starting up after rediscovery of the spike drive, and the PCs might be the first to visit a new system in centuries.

Step 1: Basic System Geography

I start with Hulks & Horrors. I don't like H&H much in terms of the game rules, but it has really neat layout in places and some tables that can be useful. I might post some of those later.

First, we figure out what kind of star is at the center of the system. We roll a d6 and get a 1 (H&H 72), so it's a normal system with only one star. I personally think that H&H's tables need to be more heavily weighted so that you don't get so many binary and trinary star systems, and so many other odd results, but you could always just roll 2d6 and take the lower. I then roll two sets of percentile dice (H&H 74), pick whatever two results please me the most from those two bands, and name it Betelgeuse Q. I think it's important to make system names that kind of roll off the tongue. You don't want it to be too awkward for your players to say.

So, what's going on in Betelgeuse Q?

First we roll for star type: 1d8 on p. 75. We get a white dwarf.

"White Dwarf – Collapsed dwarf stars that have cast off their outer layers as a surrounding planetary nebula, leaving only the very small, dim ball of cooling plasma at their center. Worlds around them are often rather cold, and even in daylight the stars still shine around it and the sky is very dark."

That's great. I personally like having older, dimmer stars. I think it gives the campaign a sense of long and forgotten history. Like the galaxy is winding down and the current players are building tiny, vibrant kingdoms in the wreckage of empires that would overshadow everything that will ever be accomplished again. Sort of like the Dying Earth books, I suppose.

Now, we get 2d6 objects orbiting the central star. There is a system for determining how many AU out they are, but I don't use it because it isn't pertinent to SWN's rules. I roll 2d6 and get a seven - so that's how many major objects there are.

Now I determine their types, with a 1d10 roll for each object: 2, 3, 4, 4, 7, 8, 9. Those rolls aren't in order; instead of taking the order as given I assign it later in the process. Using the system on H&H p. 76, that comes out to two terrestrial worlds, two gas giants, one dwarf planet, one belt, and one deep space station. That should be room for plenty of places for the PCs to do stuff.

We'll start with the Terrestrial Worlds, which means planets that are roughly earth-like in size. There are ten basic types, with variations for atmosphere and gravity. One is a low-g Gaia world (this means it has a lot of native life and different climates) with a CO2 based atmosphere. That's a potentially interesting hook, there. It can't support unshielded human life right now, but if you seeded it with plants that would convert CO2 to oxygen you might be able to terraform it. We should keep that in mind, especially if there's intelligent native life.

The second terrestrial world is a forest world. It's covered in deep forests, lots of wildlife, lots of fog. Medium gravity, oxygen-based atmosphere. We're going to come back to both of these places!

Now for the Gas Giants. These are typically boring of themselves, but they can have interesting moons. Gas giants have a type, a gravity, and an atmosphere content. You can't land on any of them, so I think they aren't very interesting. Incidentally, my read on gas giants is that "low" gravity means low for a gas giant. It's still going to be much higher than 1G, because a gas giant is going to mass many times what a terrestrial world does. If you want a sort of "gas dwarf," I'd interpret the result of a dwarf or terrestrial planet that way rather than use the gas giant result.

These are each made with 3 1d6 rolls: We have one rocky core with medium gravity and a dense hydrogen atmosphere. I think that having a dense hydrogen atmosphere might be worth a discount on how long it takes to refuel with fuel scoops, so we should consider that in the final writeup. We also get a liquid core, high gravity, made of liquid water. Well, that's quite a thing! The book notes these can support life, so let's be sure and give it at least unintelligent life later.

Now for the Dwarf Planet. These are also made with 3 1d6 rolls for type, gravity, and atmosphere. This is a Glass World, where volcanic activity has turned most of the surface into spires and canyons of razor-sharp obsidian. It has low gravity and a CO2 atmosphere. Not a fun place!

Our one Belt gets only two die rolls: one for type, one to see if there's anything habitable in it. We get Ice Belt, so it's mostly made of frozen liquids and gases, contains a second deep space station! So that's two in this system.

Now, let's develop the two Deep Space Stations. These just get 1d6 to determine a type, so we'll flesh them out a lot more later. One is a refueling station, and one is a military base. I'm going to say the refueling station is the one inside the ice belts. We can imagine that at one time it had tenders that collected hydrogen or water ice, which it rendered into fuel. I haven't decided if it's active yet, though.

Step 2: Add Moons.

H&H puts LOTS of stuff on moons. We have two terrestrial worlds, one dwarf planet, and two gas giants that all might get moons. You roll for the number and also to see if they are "interesting." Interesting usually means they're a planetoid in their own right, and are generated as such.

Our Gaian world gets five moons, but none of them are interesting. The Forest world gets an interesting result, and has a single moon. It's moon is rolled as a dwarf planet, and is...a prison planet! Neat! The exterior is rolled as a stony world, but the interior is rolled as a Gaian world. It has low gravity, thin hydrogen on the surface, and a nitrogen atmosphere on the interior.

The dwarf planet from earlier, the glass world, has two moons. However, Dwarf planets have a relatively small chance of their moons being interesting, and this one is not.

Now, on to the gas giants! These are heavy on moons, as each one receives 3d20. 1d6-1, by the rules, are interesting. That's not how I do things, though. I check for each body to see if it has what I call a "point of interest," and if that comes up positive for a gas giant then it goes on the moons. Otherwise, the star system just becomes unmanageable. In any event, the dense hydrogen world has 20 moons, and the water world has 19.

Step 3: Points of Interest

Now I check to see which orbital bodies I add things to. I have drastically simplified things from the system in H&H, because I don't like fucking with that many modifiers for something I'm going to have to roll a bunch of times. So what I do is this: I roll 1d20 for everything there. If I get 15+, then it was inhabited at some point in the past. I don't need to do this for space stations or artificial worlds, because we already know they were inhabited. Then, for each of those, I roll 1d20 and look for 15+ results again. If I get a hit on those, it means the place is still inhabited by something the PCs might want to talk to. Anyplace with loot is at least going to get hazards and automated defenses.

So, check for prior inhabitation. Look for 15+ on 1d20.

Gaia World: 17
Forest World: 8
Dwarf Planet: 15
Rocky Core Gas Giant: 7
Liquid Water Gas Giant: 17

Well, shit. This place was pretty heavily inhabited at some point. I guess the system is really old, so it's had time. Now let's see which of these places might still be inhabited! Now we add the deep space stations back in, and of course we know that the forest world's Moon Prison was inhabited at one time, as well, even if the forest world wasn't. And, of course, the gas giant has multiple moons we need to check for! Rolling 1d6-1, we get five moons of interest for the gas giant. At this point you have a pretty good idea of how I generate a planet, and the moons work the same way. So, I'll skip over that process and just give you a summary. None of them turn out to be inhabited, except we know the science world would have been. So we check for inhabitation now, and it is currently inhabited. Interesting!

1. Gaia World: 14
2. Glass World: 2
3. Liquid Water Gas Giant:

  • Moon A: Terrestrial Forest World, High Gravity, Oxygen. Never Inhabited.
  • Moon B: Terrestrial Hell World (volcanic activity, temperature and atmosphere inhospitable to human life), medium gravity, sulphurous atmosphere. Never Inhabited.
  • Moon C: Terrestrial Forest World, Low Gravity, Nitrogen. Never Inhabited.
  • Moon D: Dwarf Stony World, Low Gravity, No Atmosphere. Never Inhabited.
  • Moon E: Dwarf Science World (Covered in massive scientific installations from a prior age!), low-G, Oxygen atmosphere. Currently Inhabited.

4. Refueling Station:19
5. Military Station: 1
6. Moon Prison: 17

Now we know that the Gaia World, the Glass World, and the Military Station are basically just ruins, maybe with automated defenses or hazards. The Refueling Station and the Moon Prison, though, are still inhabited and active! Fortunately, H&H has given us a way to determine the type of ruin on a world.

We need to roll for three of them, because we already know the military base is the ruins of a military base.

Gaia World Ruins: Cities
Glass World Ruins: Monument

Step 4: Arranging Everything.

Now we put stuff in its place. This star is cold, so anything inhabited needs to be close to the star or have some other way of staying warm. If you want to refresh yourself, look down at the bottom of this post for the Final Results. This is also where I start to sketch the story into place.

This is what I'm thinking right now:
The Refueling Station is still active. I don't normally place cosmopolitan locations where aliens meet up, but this might be a good time to have an actual example of that. So, make a note to place alien civs within a couple jumps of this place, with this system acting as a refueling stop for traders, criminals, pirates, et cetera. That means this refueling station is going to have to be pretty well-defended, but I'm okay with that. It can have a market and so forth, too. That'll be fun. So, I'm going to put it on the outer rim of the system, so people can stop by and gas up without going deeper in. That's going to be important.

Next I place the glass world with the monument because it's effectively probably just flavor, and the boring gas giant. Maybe there are some miners who are mining the moons of that gas giant, but nothing big or interesting unless the PCs find a specific plot hook.

Next in, I place the military starbase. I know this is uninhabited, but I also have a pretty good idea right now of what I want to do with it. I think it was placed here to protect the Science World that is on that moon, and it is therefore in the liquid core gas giant's L2 Lagrange Point. It has heavy automated defenses, and will attack anyone trying to pass closer to the store than its orbit. I think maybe it has a pack of automated fighter bays, maybe even a few frigates, and the capacity to self-repair and make more. Trying to pass by it is going to kick the hornet's next, and nobody still alive knows the access codes to get past it.

The gas giant with the science world moon goes next in. I know that whatever is down there is going to be very dangerous, and very valuable. Maybe an unbraked AI went apeshit and built all kinds of weird miracle tech before disappearing. Maybe a bio-plague got unleashed and turned the native life into biomechanical horrors, but there's tons of valuable research data. We'll find out using Dead Names.

Next in I place the gaian world with ruined cities. Could be a lot of treasure here, and it hasn't been picked over, for the most part, due to the automated military base.

Last in, I place the forest world with the Moon Prison. It's getting the most sunlight, such as it is.

In my next post, we'll start filling out these results into more like what you would want ready before the session when the players drilled in.

Initial Results: Betelgeuse Q

White Dwarf Star: Collapsed dwarf stars that have cast off their outer layers as a surrounding planetary nebula, leaving only the very small, dim ball of cooling plasma at their center. Worlds around them are often rather cold, and even in daylight the stars still shine around it and the sky is very dark.

Orbital I: Forest World with Prison Planet Moon. There are still prisoners and guards in there.

Orbital II: Gaian World with Ruined Cities. No intelligent life.

Orbital III: Liquid Core Gas Giant with Lots of Moons. One of them is full of abandoned and highly dangerous scientific facilities!

Orbital IV: Military Deep Space Station. Uninhabited, sends out automated attack ships if anyone tries to enter the inner system without authorization codes, which nobody knows.

Orbital V: Rocky Core Gas Giant. Basically boring.

Orbital VI: Glass World with Monuments. No adventure hook yet.

Orbital VII: Ice Belt with Refueling Station. The refueling station is a trade depot and haven for unsavory types.

Monday, April 20, 2015

On OD&D, Skills, & Attributes

Cross-Posted from RPGnet

Our ideas of what the game should be like are informed by our preferred fantasy fiction.

The D&D rules are loose enough that you can "superimpose," for lack of a better word, a lot of different paradigms on top of them. I'm a much bigger fan of books like The Demon Princes* and The Name of the Wind than I am of, frex, The Wheel of Time or the earlier Dragonlance novels. Not every PC is going to be as big of a badass as Kirth Gersen, but he's somewhat illustrative of what I think a high-level PC should be like. And, essentially, that's what I like my D&D characters to be like. Even if it turns out that there's something I don't think they're likely to succeed at, they aren't at a loss.

If anybody happens to have a copy of the Chronicles of Amber around, bust that open and read the first few pages. You know what you'll notice? The protagonist wakes up in a hospital with amnesia. He's got a busted leg or arm, I forget which. Doesn't know his name or where he is. But he decides he doesn't like the cut of their gibberish, and he's stolen a gun, car, and money before you hit page ten. He doesn't fuck around. His GM isn't making him roll to see if he can use his Law and Intimidate skills in concert.

Anyway, it makes sense to use different approaches depending on what kind of campaign you want to run. If you want to run a game about peasant kids finding their place in the world and learning important lessons about friendship, absolutely, use 5E-style background packages and make them come up the hard way. If you are like me and you want PCs who have been around the block, then assume broad competence and only question it if what they want to do is very specialized. 

Also, I really hate it if things happen like the following: The PCs are in a position to steal a ship and go become pirates. This sounds like a great idea to the GM. But then people start looking at their sheets, and nobody has the Command or Navigation or Seafaring skill, and it all shuts down. See, that's crap. Conan would have just stolen the ship and gone reaving.

What Attributes Mean

In later editions of D&D, it is very clear that attributes are supposed to have a great deal of correlation with what's going on in the game world. Like, it seems to be the intent that you could take the bell curve for Intelligence scores, correlate it with the real-world bell curve for IQ scores, and that they're intended to mean kind of the same thing. If you have a high Int, you have a high IQ. Similarly, if you look at your Strength score, you can probably figure it means something like what "being really strong" means in the real world. Someone with an 18 strength is assumed to be, like, an Olympic powerlifter or whatever. So on and so forth.

I'm not actually convinced that this was the intent in OD&D. Old Geezer, of course, is welcome to tell me that I've got this wrong.

There are actually two different kinds of ability score in OD&D, before you add in the expansions. I first started thinking about this when I read Lars Dangly's Platemail 27th Edition, where he said that PCs were much more like "toys" than the modern conception of "characters." Their actual game statistics were pretty vague and generic, and then you had to layer imaginative elements on top of that. It got me thinking.

For the sake of applying a label to them, let's call them Aptitude Attributes and Customization Attributes.

Aptitude Attributes are Strength, Intelligence, and Wisdom. Note that in OD&D, they're listed in that order. Those three come first. The only thing they do, mechanically, ismodify your XP gain if you are a member of that class. If you are a fighter, then your Strength modifies how fast you advance. Intelligence and Wisdom scores do essentially nothing. The reverse holds true if you play a Cleric or Magic User. If you play an MU, your strength is irrelevant. There's no damage or hit bonus or penalty. There's no modification to your encumbrance capacity. The Aptitude attributes are just that: they determine your attribute for various classes, and give you an incentive to try this class or that class at random.

The Customization Attributes are listed last. Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma. These three will actually give you mechanical modifiers regardless of class. They modify AC & Missile Weapons, HP, and Reaction Rolls/Henchmen/Morale, respectively. These can be important for any character. 

How might this look in practice?

If you carried this idea farther than I ever did, you might do something like the following:

1. Roll your six attributes in order, 3d6. 

2. Note any modifiers from your Customization Attributes. Once you've done this, erase the name and the attribute score. So, now you've got maybe a modifier to your AC or your reaction rolls, but you don't actually have anything called Dex, Con, or Cha on your sheet.

3. Pick a class. Write down the XP modifier for the relevant Aptitude Attribute. 

4. Erase all those attributes and their values, too.

5. Yes, dead serious. Now you've got maybe an XP modifier, maybe a couple other mods, nothing else. If you rolled, for example, straight tens and elevens and wanted to play a Fighting Man, you might have a sheet that looked like this:

Berthold the Grim
Level 1 Lawful Fighting Man
XP: 0/2000

Background: Berthold wandered out of the wastelands with a broadsword and a bad attitude. He has a cool scar on his face and wears his hair in dreadlocks.

HP: 6
AC: 4
Movement Rate: 9"

*Death Ray or Poison: 12
*Wands: 13
*Stone: 14
*Dragon Breath: 15
*Spells: 16

Equipment: (total encumbrance goes here, I don't feel like calculating it)
Chain Mail
1 week rations & Waterskin
6 torches
Belt Pouch with 10GP

Now, if I were to steal somewhat from Lars Dangly, and you were interested in what OG has to say about level being determinative of competency, here is what I would do for a skill system.

1. If a character wants to do an adventurer-ey thing, you either let them succeed, rule that it requires specialized skills they don't have, or make them roll.

2. If they have to roll, just have them roll D6 equal to their level. If they roll any 5s or 6s, they succeed. If it matters how well they succeed, count them up. 3 or more dice coming up successes is very good. If they're opposed by another character or creature with hit dice, make an opposed roll. You guys have done this kind of shit before in tons of other games, you can figure it out.

3. For things requiring special skills, just put a space on their sheet called "Skills." Whenever they do something for a substantial length of game time, they can gain that as a skill. If they are on a sailing vessel crossing the sea, they can say they help sail it. If they do that, just write down Sailing. If they buy a bunch of books on alchemy and read them over the winter, write down Alchemy. Don't make them jump through a bunch of hoops or anything, just keep track of what they've done. Keep things moving and fun.

4. All PCs are assumed to gain leadership ability in proportion to their level and other skills. If they know how to fight, they can lead fighting men. If they know academics, they can function as the dean of a university. 

*This is some of the best sci-fi I've ever read. I recommend reading them at your earliest convenience, if you haven't read them before.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The following is something I initially posted to the RPGnet usergroup on Facebook. Not everyone can see that, so I'm cross-posting here. I'm way too sleep-deprived (which will be obvious when you read this) to add in rich-text formatting, which FB doesn't allow, and so it's crazy and littered with all-caps and shit. So it goes!


[User Redacted]: I think you have just invited me to make an enormous post that I've been mulling over for a while. After this, any time I say "you" it is a general you and not you specifically.

CAVEATS: This is just my personal opinion (although some of you might reasonably infer that I have some insight), if it was official stuff it would be in Trouble Tickets. It's going to be super fucking long, probably inappropriate for an FB post. I don't have access to rich text on FB, so I'm going to compensate by abusing the fuck out of parentheticals. I didn't sleep much last night so it's going to be rambling and I'll probably cuss a lot and man here comes the all-caps.


If you feel that it can be hard to post on RPGnet if you don't have a specific mindset, you are (in some limited cases) correct. However, I think that it isn't clear to most users what that mindset is and why it exists. This became a noticeable problem when we instituted the sexism policy, which you might decry as the mandatory feminism policy if you're the kind of person who says shit like that. I think that is because the staff basically made a certain minimum degree of feminism near-mandatory for participating in certain discussions. I ALSO THINK THAT WAS A GOOD THING. If you don't agree with me then that's fine, but it would be cool if you understood why I think that. This is more about helping people understand why this stuff is happening than convincing anyone.

FEMINISM IS NOT ONE THING. It is an academic discipline related to history and sociology, which studies women's issues and what we generally refer to as "patriarchy." It is also a collection of distinct and often sharply incompatible social movements that are intended to help women and (implicitly or explicitly) dismantle the patriarchy. It is a set of ideological statements or values, which again can vary wildly or be grossly incompatible depending on what kind of feminist you are (I'm not going to get into types of feminism because I will fuck it up and everyone will laugh at me.) Feminism is ALSO what I call a "craft," a set of practices used to oppose patriarchy/privilege/whatever in the real world or on the internet, right off the cuff. That is, there are a bunch of practical techniques and rhetorical devices shared among feminists that are properly considered a part of feminism. Probably nobody in the world but me would call that a craft, but I don't care. This is my soapbox and I'm going to paint it however I damn well please.

NB: Feminism can look weird as an academic discipline because while it is Empirical in many places and times, it also rejects rigid empiricism as a prerequisite to being taken seriously. If a woman says that women get catcalled on the street all the time, and a bunch of women agree, then that is supposed to be sufficient and we should listen to their stories. We aren't supposed to be totally skeptical of the "lived experiences," and wait until there is hard, operationalized data to believe them. 

That change in approach exists SPECIFICALLY because of institutional barriers and power structures that keep marginalized groups from doing the research they want to do. If you want to do research on why oil and coal are totally not causing climate change (which is not a real thing anyway!) then the money will roll in. If you want to do research on shit that is important to rich white guys or establishment academics then you've got a shot.

The kind of people who are marginalized and want to do research into how much more often women get interrupted than men do (Hint: It is a fucking lot! That research finally got done, and the results are, in fact, empirical), then it was not until relatively recently that you could get the wherewithal to do it.

Short form, feminists and racial minorities and stuff don't necessarily  have the budget or the access to the levers of power needed to do rigorous experimental sociology, and that is bullshit, so to some extent Feminism accepts a relaxing of standards on these issues. Basically: If enough people tell you something happened to them in a certain way, you should listen. I'm a lawyer and I don't think that this idea should be controversial, but there are a lot of people who just won't buy it and demand hard data to back up every proposition. Too bad!

RPGnet has accepted Certain Things from feminism which are considered facts. Some of this is from the theory of feminism but some of them relate to what I above called the "craft" of feminism. If you have read Derailing for Dummies and seen people dinged for derailing threads, you have some idea of what I am talking about. 

I think that a lot of the genuine (as opposed to feigned) confusion about our sexism policy comes from the fact that people do not understand the distinction between our policy and our factual premises. I accept that not everyone is going to agree with me (although I wish they did! I want everyone to take up hammers and help me smash the patriarchy! I promise it will be fun and we will have punch and pie!), but I really don't like it if people genuinely don't understand our policies and find them strange and frightening. I would much rather have ten people who think we're worse than Stalin than a hundred people who have no idea what the fuck is going on.

To get to the thing, RPGnet as a whole basically accepts that privilege is real. You are not necessarily going to get dinged for saying "lol privilege is not real," or for just strongly disliking the term, or for speaking out against ideologies you think are based on faulty notions, but Imma tell you right now that privilege has a solid as a fucking rock empirical foundation, built over hundreds of experiments, and if you don't think it is real then you're basically like a climate change denier. That is why you are going to get met with hostility even if the staff doesn't do anything to you in terms of infracting you.

Because some of it relates to that craft of feminism stuff. Our policy on derailing is the centerpiece and most visible part of this. Part of what got me thinking about this was some disagreement on what derailing is (also, a feminist blogger or someone who is way smarter than me but whom I can't remember the name of wrote some stuff about this that I agree with, and I'm stealing her metaphor and then making it about D&D.)

Imagine you want to talk about D&D. In fact, that's a big part of why I come to RPGnet and I hope I'm not alone, so this shouldn't be a hard thing to imagine. You start threads about D&D. Imagine that every time you start a thread about D&D, some dudes roll in and want to know about hit points. "What are hit points?" You try to tell them what hit points are and they keep asking more questions. "If I have my max HP and someone casts one of these 'Cure' spells you mentioned on me, does that increase my max HP? This problem with the rules will allow everyone to gain infinite HP without question!" This goes on forever. They ask about XP: "Why do XP make sense? How do I get them? What do I do when my GM doesn't give me enough of them? Wait, what are experience levels again?" At some point they start disagreeing with your premises, "I don't think Saving Throws really work the way you say they do. YOu're probably mistaken, and your DM really wants you to roll a dex check. You probably misread the situation about whether that gargoyle could be hurt by magical weapons or not."

This is annoying. If you ignore these guys it's kind of rude, but you can't talk about any of the shit you want to talk about because they keep questioning everything and arguing with minor, niggling details.

Now, keep your imagination-ship fired up because I want you to imagine that not only does this happen to EVERY SINGLE THREAD, but that THE SAME GUYS DO IT.

Even if you explain to Bob Wizardpants (I'm sorry if that's a real user) what HP are this week and that no they are not related to Spell Slots why would you even think that, he will come back and ask you the same bullshit questions next week, maybe slightly rephrased, when you start another thread and want to talk about YOUR ACTUAL TOPIC.

At some point, I would step in and use the powers of the Crimson Word which the admins so unwisely bestowed upon me, and I would tell Bob Wizardpants to GTFO and go read Labyrinth Lord himself for the sake of Christ, it's a fucking free download you mouthbreather.

Now the kicker is YOU DON'T HAVE TO IMAGINE THIS, IT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU TRY TO TALK ABOUT FEMINISM ON THE INTERNET. Seriously, that is what it is like any time you want to talk about Feminism or women's issues or whatever you want to call it. IT IS EXACTLY LIKE BOB WIZARDPANTS ASKING YOU THE SAME STUPID-ASS QUESTIONS ABOUT HIT POINTS EVERY FUCKING WEEK WHEN HE COULD JUST GO READ ANY GODDAMN RETROCLONE AND THEN COME BACK AND BE ABLE TO SAY SOMETHING INTELLIGENT. Or maybe he wouldn't say something intelligent, maybe he'd say something dumb and awful, but at least if he was being dumb and awful in good faith then it would be an INFORMED dumb and awful, and hence possibly interesting in a train-wreck kind of way.

And this, in its most essential flavor, is why the derailing and sexism policy exists. It is so we can have an actual productive discussion without Bob Wizardpants and a dozen of his friends pulling at our fucking sleeves every five seconds asking for a citation to a study and a from-first-principles explanation of structural inequality every five seconds, forever, no matter how many times we've already explained it. In other words, we have this rule to exclude a lot of boring discussion so that we can have an interesting discussion. If we don't exclude this class of degenerate instructions, we NEVER GET TO HAVE the interesting discussions.

EXCEPT THAT IS NOT ENTIRELY TRUE, because in fact if you want to know about Feminism 101 and Privilege Explained For Freshmen and I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THIS ARTICLE ON THE TOAST IS TALKING ABOUT then I guarantee you that you can start a Tangency  [+] thread and people like me will catch you up, with patience and even maybe citations, so long as we think you're asking in good faith. 

If you do not have a working knowledge of what derailing and sea-lioning is, if you don't know what privilege is, if you don't grasp how subaltern narratives are excluded from the discourse and the experiences of marginalized groups are made invisible, then I heartily encourage you to LOOK UP THOSE THINGS before you post in a thread about women or sexism or GBLT issues or racism or anything like that, because YOU ARE DRAMATICALLY INCREASING THE LIKELIHOOD THAT YOU WILL GET RED TEXT IF YOU WALK IN AND START TALKING WITHOUT A GROUNDING IN THE BASIC REALITIES OF THE SITUATION.

Now, I am allowing for the possibility that you can disagree that any of those things exist (although if you don't think privilege and discourse control and patriarchy exist, I think you are seriously in the same boat as YECs and THAT BOAT SUCKS BECAUSE IT IS IMAGINARY SERIOUSLY NOBODY BUILT A BOAT THAT TWO OF EVERY ANIMAL COULD FIT IN AND FORGOT THE UNICORNS OR SOME SHIT) and still get along okay in our threads, IF YOU HAVE A GOOD WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF THOSE THINGS YOU DON"T BELIEVE IN, but you are going to be ice-skating uphill.

So, short form: No matter what you believe, if you do not have a working understanding of feminism (which anyone can get if they're willing to read some pages on the internet and ask a few questions in a thread designated for feminism noobs) then I would personally suggest they steer the hell clear of certain RPGnet threads. This is not a policy mandate or a mod instruction or whatever. This is me giving frank and free advice as a fellow user.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Schools of Sorcery

It amuses me to place primitive worlds in Stars Without Number campaigns.  I like the idea of PCs interacting with worlds that are TL3 or less.  Imagine!  You could visit a 1950s America-like and play The Day the Earth Stood Still from the other side of the conflict.

But maybe more interesting than that are worlds so primitive that the ability of centralized governments or mercantile interests to deal with you is effectively hobbled.  TL1 or so.  Medieval planets.  And, with the survival of strange alien megafauna, hostile flora, weird science phenomena, and psychic powers, those worlds could look a whole lot like a fantasy setting.  To that end, I'd like to create one or more new psychic disciplines.  The goal of these disciplines is to have a slightly weirder, more occult, more baroque feel than the powers in the book.  However, I don't want to violate the precepts underlying the design (avoid fight-winning powers, so not much damage and no dominate) nor do I want to eat too much into the territory of the existing disciplines (I can't throw Dimension Door into the middle of a discipline, that drinks too much of Teleportation's milkshake.)


Schools of Sorcery look more occult.  In theory (and game mechanics) they're just like other psychic disciplines.  In practice, though, since TL1-2 worlds don't have access to advanced psitech training equipment, they have to rely on over-complicated kludges.  Specifically, highly technical systems of visualization and symbolic logic, recorded in books using various arcane ciphers and occult diagrams.  The Religion and Tech/Psitech skills (in-class for psychics) are used to memorize and understand the weird equations necessary for Sorcerous training.  There is nothing keeping an off-world Psychic from one of the established academies from journeying to whatever world I institute this on and learning Sorcery as one of their disciplines.  They would need to begin training Religion and Tech/Psitech when they leveled, if they had not already trained those skills to at least 0.

And now, onto the powers.

Level 1: Detect Evil
This power allows the user to detect the presence of sapient minds around them, within a twenty meter radius.  It does not grant a specific location for any person, but the psychic may gain a rough sense of direction.  People in close groups tend to blur together, and a precise count cannot be gained either.  The most useful aspect of this power is that it will allow the user to pick out if any of the minds are non-human or otherwise very deviant from the norm.  The psychic will know if there are alien sapients, AIs, persons whose minds have become sufficiently twisted by maltech, or who have become insane for other reasons. It does not detect psychic ability, unless the psychic has been driven mad by their powers.  It does not allow the reading of thoughts or states of emotion.  The user can exclude people whom they know well and can see, so it is possible for a member of a group of PCs to find out if anyone other than their colleagues is within range.

Level 2: Detect Magic
This power also works within a twenty meter radius, but gives a more accurate reading on location and numbers.  It identifies if any persons have psychic capability, and if any objects are psitech items.  The closer the user is to the thing that is "pinging" their radar, the more precise they can be about the source of the ping.  If they are touching a person or object when they use this power, they can tell for certain if that person or object has psychic abilities.  Otherwise, they gain only direction, whether it is a person or object, and a rough sense of the strength of the source.

Level 3: Invisibility
The psychic can use their Religion skill modified by Wisdom in place of the Stealth skill for the five minutes after using this power.  Furthermore, they can use their skill in circumstances where it would normally be unreasonable to do so, such as walking right past a guard (the guard would make a normal perception check versus the skill check of the user rather than automatically noticing them.)  This power fails if the user attacks or does anything else that would be conspicuously likely to draw attention to themselves.

Level 4: Dowsing
The psychic can tell if something is within 20 meters by using this power.  It can be general like "water" or "gold," or it can be specific such as "Captain Trask's Journal," if the PCs know such a thing to exist.  It cannot be a person or animal.  The power lasts five minutes.  If the thing to be found is hidden and the PCs must look for it, this power allows the psychic to use their Religion skill modified by Wisdom instead of Perception, and grants a +2 bonus to the search attempt in any case.

Level 5: Evil Eye
You can look at an object or person within ten meters, and gain visions of the most important events they have been involved in within the past 24 hours.  The vision of any given scene will not last more than three seconds, so only a momentary glimpse is possible.  However, it will usually be the most informative three seconds possible.  The GM should be generous, here.  No save.

Level 6: Curse
The psychic can strike someone within twenty meters with a curse.  The GM rolls a save for that person in secret.  If they succeed, they gain a sense of dread and foreboding, but nothing occurs.  If they fail, then at some point within the next 24 hours they will be the victim of an improbable accident, which deals 1d4 damage for each level the psychic has.  The GM is encouraged to be imaginative and lurid if this will result in the death of the target.

Level 7: Identify
The psychic can determine the function and purpose of an object.  This is most useful with psitech devices, where it can be fairly specific.  If used on technological equipment, the results of the power will be vague and general: "Point it at your enemy and pull this switch to harm them."

Level 8: Astral Projection
This power must be used before the psychic goes to sleep.  During the next few hours of rest, the psychic will be able to view places that are known to them (Have either been there before or know the precise location), and are no further away than from the surface of a planet to high orbit.  They cannot hear what is said while they are viewing, but if they are capable of lip-reading they may attempt that.  While invisible, unable to use any of their own other powers, and not truly physically present, it is theoretically possible for a psychic using this ability to be subject to the psychic powers of others while in this state.  If a telepath could gain knowledge that an astrally projecting psychic were present, they could potentially target them with telepathic powers, for example.

Level 9: Tulpa
The psychic is able to create a persistent psychic projection.  A psychic may only have one in existence at a time.  Use the sample stat block for any creature type (pg. 147 SWN Core Edition) OTHER THAN the party-butchering hell beast.  The player and the GM should work together to determine any additional or variant capabilities the creature might have.  For example, the GM should certainly allow an aquatic multi-limbed horror to represent some kind of nightmare squid.  The player can always make a humanoid tulpa regardless of the statblock, and can customize their appearance as they like.  However, a tulpa cannot have the precise appearance of any individual (except the creator, if the creator wants a twin...)

The creation of a new Tulpa takes one week of meditation, during which the Tulpa slowly comes into existence.  The psi points must be expended each day, including the last.  The Tulpa will come into existence with a personality and goals determined by the creator, and the creator can furthermore create them with a few skills, if they are skills the creator possesses (A tulpa can always use its natural weapons without skills.)  If the creator wishes, the Tulpa may have whatever memories the creator chooses to craft, and need not be aware that they are a tulpa.  If the creator has the Telepathy discipline, then no telepath with a lower level of the discipline than the creator had at the time of creation will be able to determine that the memories are artificial.

A creator can dissolve their own Tulpa by using this power again in the Tulpa's presence.  A Tulpa that is not dissolved may eventually gain its own independent existence, at which point the creator will forget that the Tulpa is their creation.  If a tulpa that is not independent is slain, the creator will lose a number of HP equal to half of the Tulpa's maximum HP.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Space Madness Update: Skill Philosophy & Dance-Offs

As I work my way toward an  Alpha 2 version, I'd like to start posting samples and tidbits of things that I just couldn't fit into the Alpha 1.  I was anxious to get it posted, and didn't have time to do everything I wanted.

Skill Hierarchies

First, I'm going to talk a bit about my philosophy of skills.

Some skills are basic, immediate things, that any character who wants to do things should have. For example, if you want to beat the hell out of someone, you should have Boxing. It gives you a straight-up, linearly increasing bonus to-hit. This compensates for the fact that an Immortal gets a slightly less favorable to-hit advancement than a B/X Fighter. Some of these skills are so essential that characters need to have them outright. Multitasking, for example, is the skill that most contributes to Immortals being better starship pilots than the typical crew. Getting more action cards gives you more options for when you can act, even before you start getting other kinds of bonuses and access to extra actions per round.

Other skills are more like what a skill means in a normal RPG. The basic Science skill, for example, means that you know science stuff in a vague and hand-wavey sort of way. I actually don't like that. My goal for skills is that they give fairly definite and mechanistic (if not mechanical) benefits. A magic user in the old school who wants to do spell research doesn't have to make a lot if intelligence checks or have a spellcraft skill; their chance of success is based on time, money, and their level. That's how I want it to work. If you want to bio-engineer a duckbunny, I don't want the Referee to have to make up a lot of difficulties and for you to have to roll skills to do it. Really, it should be more like:

1. You need this amount of lab equipment (This is actually a great kind of requirement, because it means the PCs have to set down roots somewhere, maybe guard their facilities, etc.

2. You need certain skills (again, I want there to be a mechanistic requirement.)

3. You need the two critters to be melded together into an abomination of science (easy for a duck and a bunny, could be an adventure hook for anything more interesting.)

4. You need a certain amount of money in supplies or whatever (Keep the characters poor and greedy at all times!)

5. Time.

And then poof, there's a duckbunny. Maybe there's a check that isn't too hard, and you can roll every week until you succeed. Or maybe it just takes 1d4+1 weeks. Give the player some variance so they can't plan everything precisely. Unless they've made a duckbunny before, or hacked a corporate mainframe and stole another scientists' work. If it's the former, this is too boring to be worth time. if it's the latter, you've already got an adventure hook out of it and you can just let them have it.


Skills come in hierarchies. I'm going to use Science as an example, but there are certainly more different skills than that.

The basic Science skill doesn't do much on its own. It's a way for the Referee to hand out information. If a player finds a weird phenomenon floating out in space and they have Science IV and nothing else, the Referee shouldn't give them a lot of data. "It's some kind of gravitic-dimensional vortex. You don't have any idea what it might do, but it's at least potentially dangerous. You can use your ship's computer to store the readings you're getting. You could possibly sell the data, but you don't know what it is or what it's worth. If someone wants to do some research you could find a professor of dimensional mechanics or someone like that to do a consultation with...or you could just throw an avatoid in a vacc suit through it and see what happens." (Suggestions like this are good, because they give the players a sense of the setting and context. Also, the players often come up with the best plans when they are like "Well, that is bullshit, we'll do something totally different and throw the referee a curveball.")

Science makes a good introductory skill because it's a cheap Factor I skill that has obvious RP implications.  Everyone knows kinda what science is and has an idea of what someone who took a bunch of science survey courses in college should know.  Or at least you could figure it out with wikipedia.  Actually, that's a pretty good mechanic: At this level, you can consult wikipedia OOC to see what your character knows.

A tier above introductory skills are specialization skills. This is like Biology Specialization. It's a higher factor, it's more expensive. It lets a player who is most interested in a given part of a general skill get additional bonuses in that skill. Depending on the prerequisites, it can let them get more bonus more cheaply at a cost of general skill.

The third tier in the chain is where things start to get interesting. Third-Tier skills should be adding new capabilities. In this case, Bioengineering lets you start making your own monsters. It's not necessarily directly combat-relevant (although it could be, if you make some kind of cool war-python that you can ride on, instead of an adorable litter of duckbunnies.)

Fourth-tier skills should be major rulebreaking bullshit. They have high Factors, are expensive, have major prerequisites, and let you break the game rules by doing things like jacking up all your attributes.  The skill that does that, by the way, is Clone Enhancement.  If you read it, you'll note that it requires facilities, time, and money, in addition to being a Factor IV skill, and thus pretty expensive in terms of time and money.

Dance-Off Skills

First, start with your first-tier skill.

Factor: 1, FREE
Unskilled: Human Characters with no Athletics skill can make at most one move action per round, and have Speed 4.
I: Character’s rank in this skill is added to any attempt to swim, jump, climb, play sports, etc.
II: Speed 5.
III: +1 Encumbrance Slot.
IV: Speed 6.
V: The character can make an additional Move action per round.

Secondly, you take a specialty in Dance. You only know you have to do this because "Dance Specialty" is listed as a prerequisite for competitive Dance.

Dance Specialty
Factor: 2
Prerequisites: Athletics III.
I: Like the other Athletics specialties, this skill will simply add to any attempts to do the specialized thing. In the case of Dance, we can assume that (like most Immortal skills) it's very broad, and covers anything from formal ballroom dance to impromptu mocking jigs.

Now, the third-tier skill. This one starts opening up weird new mechanical realms. Note that none of these skills require a IV or even V in their prerequisite. We want a character to be able to buy into this without a huge time investment. For a mid-level character (level 5, 10 SP per week), you could very easily become a professionally skilled dancer in just a few weeks, and start taking part in competitions as one of the lower-ranked competitors. I personally think that Level 5 is probably around the sweet spot for campaign play. Characters should have the skills, equipment, and competence to begin doing larger and more self-directed projects. They have room to pick skills up on a whim.

Competitive Dance
Factor: 3
Prerequisites: Dance Specialty III
Description: Any character may take part in a dance-off! They can use the skills and attribute bonuses they do possess, even if they don’t have the prerequisites to issue a challenge, or don’t have the Dance specialties. However, if they have this skill and the Challenge skill, they can Serve opponents to force a dance-off.
I: Your rank in this skill adds to any skill checks to dance. Specifically, it covers highly athletic breakdancing, or similar moves. You may Serve opponents with a dance-off challenge if you also have the Challenge skill. If you roll a natural 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Step It Up move.
II: If you roll a natural 17 or 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Tag In move.
III: If you roll a natural 16, 17, or 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Denouement move.
IV: If you roll a natural 15, 16, 17, or 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Stomp move.
V: If you roll a natural 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18 for your Move during a dance-off, you may use a special move. You gain access to the Bite Their Style move.

I'm not going to belabor how the tiers work anymore. Just know that the Challenge skill requires the first-tier Social and the second-tier Intimidate Specialty.

Factor: 3
Prerequisite: Intimidate Specialization III
Description: This skill allows your character to issue serves to their opponents. Someone getting Served is a necessary prerequisite to forcing another character to engage in a Dance-Off, Rap Battle, or other Challenge.
I: Your rank in this skill adds to attempts to Serve an NPC.

Dance-Off Mechanics


The tradition of various kinds of Challenges evolved across the galaxy to allow confrontations between heroic characters without death and bloodshed. It’s a way for characters to show off their skill and craft and still both walk away. They are viewed as sacred, and to violate their tradition is a source of crushing shame.

The kind of challenge available in the basic game is a dance-off. This displays the physical prowess of the parties and is viewed as suitable across cultures.

The following general rules apply to all challenges:

1. The target of the challenge must be a significant character or NPC within sight and hearing of the challenger. A horde of random hobgoblins cannot be Served. If there is a chieftain among the hobgoblins, though, then the chieftain could be the target of a challenge. Heroic characters like the PCs should almost always be able to tell which members of a group of NPCs are significant enough to warrant a challenge. Unintelligent creatures cannot be served. A horde of undead is immune to service, but the vampire leader can still be served. (Vampires are incredibly vain, they will almost never turn down a Challenge.)

2. A Serve must be issued before the fighting starts. Winning initiative and using your action card is good enough, so long as no one has made any attacks yet. Serves must be in person, they cannot be done via starship comms.

3. All hit point losses are rounded up, so that more damage is taken. However, no one can ever be reduced below 1HP by the results of Shame from a Challenge. The whole point is that they are non-lethal.

4. By serving or accepting a challenge, the party agrees on a meta-game level to allow the loser to retreat in peace. The loser is not so bound. They may, if they wish, attack the winner. This is regardless of who issued the serve.

5. If retreating would mandate abandoning a valuable position or treasure, that is, if the encounter has more stakes than simply being a loser or winner and ceding the field, then the party who receives the serve may receive a bonus to resist it at the discretion of the Referee. If the balance of forces is so hugely one-sided that the stronger party believes they are under no threat, then they may automatically refuse a successful challenge without sustaining Shame damage. However, it is obligatory in this case to then offer the Challenger reasonable terms for Surrender.

6. In order to serve, the serving party need merely announce it. If the target is within sight and hearing, and is able to understand the serv, they have the choice to simply accept without rolling. Serving someone to have a dance-off can be done without a common language, Rap Battles depend on mutual fluency in some shared language.

7. If the defending party does not wish to accept Service, then the parties can roll dice. The Server rolls 3d6 + Social + Intimidate Specialty + Challenge + Their Charisma modifier. The difficulty of issuing a successful challenge is 20. For every five by which they beat this difficulty, the defender's saving throw is penalized by 2. (-2 at 25, -4 at 30, etc.) If the Servee wishes to resist a successful Serve, they can roll a save v. spell, penalized as above.

8. If the Server beats the difficulty and the Servee forgoes or fails the saving throw, they have been Served. The Servee must now either accept the challenge or suffer Shame.

9. If the Servee rejects a successful Serve, they must take 25% of their current HP in damage. ALTERNATELY, one of their allies who is present may accept the Serve on their behalf. This relieves the original Servee, and the original Server may not withdraw their challenge. You want to make sure that the other side doesn't have an incredible dancer hidden in the back before you issue a challenge.

10. Once someone has given, rejected, or accepted a Serve in a given encounter, they cannot then Serve or be Served by anyone who was party to that encounter (that is, anyone who was served or served someone, or any of their allies who were present) for a period of 24 hours.

11. Once a challenge is accepted, either voluntarily or by force, then all the action must stop until the Challenge is complete. This does affect mindless NPCs if they are led by any character who is a valid target for a challenge. The referee is welcome to interpret this as broadly as they like.

12. Unless otherwise stated, the Server acts first in the Challenge.

There can be multiple different kinds of challenges, possibly unique to the individual campaign. Dance-offs are the most universal, and are described below.

The goal of a dance-off, mechanically, is to make the single best poker hand that it is possible for the player to have. All the poker cards issued are kept face-up on the table in front of the player collecting them; everyone can tell how well someone is doing. The way to accumulate cards is to have the character successfully execute moves.

Each round consists of three moves by each involved party. Each successful move gains the player one card from the poker deck. Special moves are used in addition to the regular move that triggers them, and do not give you additional cards. The most cards it is possible for a player to have, at the end of the dance-off, is 9. The standard roll in a dance-off is a D20 + the character’s Charisma modifier + the total of their physical attribute modifiers + Athletics + Dance Specialty + Competitive Dance.

The Round: Each party to the dance-off makes the standard roll three times, in sequence. The Server acts first. Each roll is a move. The Difficulty of the roll is 25. If they succeed, then they have executed the dance move correctly and they gain a card. If they roll a special move due to a high natural roll of the die, and that roll is high enough to succeed at the current Difficulty, they resolve that immediately, before making any further normal moves. It’s the special moves that make things interesting.

Step it Up: You can use your special move to step up your game, and use more impressive moves. If you choose to do this, immediately reroll your move at a difficulty two higher. If you fail, your regular and special move both fail, and you do not get a card for this move. If you succeed, you gain a card as normal and the difficulty for all moves after this are increased by two, for all dancers involved in this dance-off. This special move can be used multiple times by multiple dancers. It allows highly skilled characters to shut less-skilled characters out of the competition.

Tag In: You tag in one of your teammates. This does not require a roll, but the teammate must be willing. Immediately put your hand of cards (including the one from the move you just made, if it was successful) in between you and the teammate you just tagged in. In the final hand, either you or your teammate can use any of the cards in this common hand (this is very similar to Texas Hold ‘Em.) Any cards you earn after this division are yours only, and any cards your ally earns after this division are hers only.

Your teammate will take a turn (all three rolls) at the end of the round, and at each round thereafter. This Move is most successful when used in Round 1 with a highly skilled teammate. When you use this move, one of your opponent’s allies may immediately step up as well, with no roll required. If so, your opponent must divide off the common cards for their side in just the same way that you and your ally did.

Denouement: This special move may only be used during Round 3. Make a single Move roll, directly opposed, against any opponent currently participating in the dance-off. The winner may switch any one of the loser's cards with any other card that is currently in play.

Stomp: This can only be used if you have the agreement of a majority of your allies to use it, and requires a natural 18 regardless of what numbers you normally gain special moves on. Make an additional Move roll against a difficulty of 35. If you succeed, Shame will apply to everyone on the field who is party to the conflict. If you win the dance-off, all enemies suffer Shame. If you lose, you and all of your allies suffer Shame. Whether you succeed or fail on this roll, your opponent may immediately use the Tag In maneuver on any three of their allies, or alternately draw three more cards for themselves and keep them face-down. If there are already multiple opponents tagged in, the face-down cards can be used by any or all of them to form a hand at the end of the dance-off.

Bite Their Style: When you choose to use this special move, do not draw a card immediately. Instead, choose an opponent and roll 3d6 + your Wisdom mod + Cold Read against their roll of 3d6 + Charisma mod + Deceive Specialty (if they have it. Social does not count.) If you succeed, you can figure out your opponent’s dance strategy and pre-empt their favorite moves. Draw a card normally, and your opponent needs one higher number to get a special move result. For example, if they would normally need a natural 17 or 18, they now need a natural 18. On a failure, you do not draw a card as you flub the move.

This can be used multiple times on a single opponent. It can result in an opponent being unable to use special moves at all. Once you fail using this move, you cannot use it again for the rest of the day.

Finishing the Dance-Off
Determine which player has the best hand using normal poker rules. That player chooses which if any of the other characters who participated in the match are to suffer Shame. Shamed characters lose half of their current HP, rounded up. This cannot reduce any character below 1 HP. This is not considered to be taking damage, and no Armor, Shields, or other normal methods of reducing damage apply. At this point, the losers must be allowed to slink away by the winners. Jeers may be directed their way, but no hostile spells or other actions. However, if the losers decide to attack anyway, they may. Their names may live on in infamy, but this does not garner them any additional Shame (at least not of the kind that is mechanically represented by HP loss.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Why have I been so quiet lately?  I've been working on my own Spaceships, Swords, & Sorcery OSR game.  It's currently at a very rough alpha stage, and I'd like to have people work it over for a while before I build further on a foundation that may turn out to be shaky.  Particularly, I'd appreciate it if people could stomp on the space combat system for a while and tell me what works and what doesn't.  All other commentary is also appreciated, of course.