Skree and Thrum on DriveThru

Skree and Thrum

I’m taking Skree and Thrum and putting it on DriveThru RPG. It’s a short game of 25 pages, so it’s a digestible size. The setting is a jumping off point for the players instead of a locked down, fully formed world. I hear from a lot of players that they really just want to take a world in their own direction and not be locked down to an author’s ideas so I’m taking that to heart and trying it out. Think of it as an experiment.

This is the first RPG Store32 is offering for sale. Now, before you complain that the sky is falling, I’m pricing it at a dollar. I’m still interested in free games, so the game is Creative Commons licensed. Unfortunately there’s a lot of disregard for free games by the general gaming public. I’d like to see if simply by putting down a bit of money, a player is more likely to see the game to the table. I only have free options at the moment so I can’t really compare. Now I have something that I can put my theory to the test. Think of it as an experiment.

Truly Future

I’m reading through the Traveller books. The interesting thing I notice the most is that the technology is limited. Aside from FTL, the tech is equivalent to what could be possible in fourty to sixty years from now. It’s possible that I could live to see it all happen.

Specifically, things like Nanotech is kept out of the books intentionally because they would end the need for trade. In reality, things like the internet have eliminated the need for a lot of the commerce that used to happen in physical locations. 3D printers have the potential to greatly alter physical trade too. If you think about it, more and more trade is becoming information. And there seems to be very little limit to what information is available for free.

Another thing that frequently bothers me about space opera settings is that, unless we’re missing something important, a starship would be able to destroy a planet with relative ease. Either through kinetic energy, relativistic effects or the immense amount of power it would wield.

What would humans be in 100,000 years? Assuming humanity isn’t going to be wiped out by some world altering event, would we even recognize ourselves? I think games like Sufficiently Advanced probably reach the far end of the kind of progress I’m thinking about. The average space opera wants to hit a nearer term level of advancement than that though.

Games like Eclipse Phase do a lot to touch on near term advancement. I’m dubious about being able to encode a human’s brain into computer data as it’s portrayed though. After all, the human brain is the most complex object in the currently known universe. We can’t get close to the complexity of a single cell yet. The brain is orders of magnitude harder to replicate. If we could emulate a human brain, it would be at best, a rough approximation.

So what am I thinking of as a level of technology? We can almost print human organs on demand. We can already print plastic, metal and concrete with only raw materials a printer and a design. What about printing food? What about recycling genetically altered bacterial cells into food or even organs to extend out lives. Food becomes a non-issue.

This would alter medicine greatly. Loss of limb is no longer an issue. Print a new one. Spare parts a plenty.

What of disease? Persistent disease is, to our scientific knowledge an issue of genetics, either a viruses’ genetics, the bacteria’s or ours. In theory a mastery of genetics would go a long way to eliminating most disease.

The other thing it would mean is humans would have a huge knowledge of the nanotech structures that genes code for. Already scientists are hijacking biological structures for use in nanotech. Why would that slow down or stop?

What if a nano reactor could provide for you, nearly any type of cell or virus you wanted in a matter of hours? Then the 3D printer could arrange them for you? Why not print your own living organisms? Want that perfect cat? Pull down the file, use some algae as raw material and in a few hours, there it is. Again, the problem remains for reconstructing the brain of the cat. But maybe if you could approximate it, you could get close enough. But why would you limit yourself to approximating the programming of a cat? Why not eliminate the behaviors that you don’t like, or don’t have a purpose in a human dominated environment? Maybe you could mix and match different animal behaviors into your cat.

What if you printed a wi-fi circuit into it’s skull and you gave it a parrot’s vocal cords. . . What if your cat could talk to you and tell you what that web page says?

At what point is it a replicant of an animal? At what point is it a robot?

What happens when you start printing human bodies and putting in approximations of human brains? What about human sized animals with human brain approximations? What about getting rid of all that human behavior that proves problematic?

If anything, the limitation would be the size capacity the printing speed and resolution of your printer. How important would that technology be to the average home? Would you dedicate an appliance the size of a refrigerator to it? Almost certainly. What about a room? You’re not making anything in the kitchen anymore, why not?

What about printing an Elephant with human programming and the ability to do advanced calculations, linguistics and a wi-fi chip? Give it hands while you’re at it. Could it become a kind of internet appliance? An online entity that uses it’s huge brain to protect your online presence?

On a totally different front, let’s examine the implications of a star ship. Any vessel capable of traveling at near the speed of light, must be enormously powerful. Where would we get this power? There’s the current nuclear power sources but they’re dangerous and very difficult to replicate at the moment. Maybe nanotech could be used to make uranium easier to mine and concentrate but that’s still dangerous and toxic and problematic. LENR reactors, if they’re actually possible to make, would be one source of energy that would be far safer.

Another possibility would be energy teleportation. If you were able to tap into a star, you could have Yottawatts of power available. The equipment that drew power from the star would be enormous. Maybe making a “jump” would require authorization from the teleportation plant. Maybe getting a backdoor or an inside man is the secret to an off the books star voyager? This kind of facility would be the backbone of an interstellar society.

In the end though, ships that travel between stars would realistically outstrip our current concepts about power. Gigawatts would be puny power measurement for minor ship functions. The engines would dwarf our current power use measurements even with something like vacuum engineering to create a warp drive.

With that in mind, as long as we’re not talking about dimension hopping and going into a “hyperspace”, which has no basis in any physics we currently understand, the ship is traveling as a physical object and dropping a one ton mass out of your warp bubble onto a planet is going to do a lot of damage. Firing a Yottawatt laser would have planetary implications too.

That isn’t even venturing into the realm of artificial gravity. If gravity manipulation is even possible. An artificial gravity field would be capable of ripping the atmosphere off a planet, causing seismic shockwaves or immense tsunami waves.

Even simpler is towing a decent sized rock out of an asteroid belt and dropping it on a planet.

Starships are bad news for planets. Obviously a planet would have to mount it’s own defenses and formidable ones at that. What form would they take? They’d have to be extreme to protect against a vessel traveling faster than light since you couldn’t actually see them coming. They’re outrunning the light that would tip you off. The best you could possibly do is try and stop the rocks they’re dropping on you.

Would the elite, leave the relative hazard of living on planet and live in their own starships? Would living planetside be for the poor huddled masses? If we were no longer tied to the Earth for food, what would prevent people from just heading off in some random direction in a generation ship and forgetting the rest of the human race? It would certainly be a tempting option for some.

The other possibility is that FTL is possible by worm hole or jump gate. A possibility that is made all the more fascinating considering some speculation that quantum entanglement may actually be the physical manifestation of worm holes. We just didn’t know that’s what we were looking at.

In the end, future technology is likely to move in directions we can scarcely imagine. Our current technology looks very little like what was envisioned for us sixty years ago. An “accurate” portrayal of a space faring society is likely to be far different from anything imagined in our past up until now. What would a young Wernher von Braun say if he saw fiction written that accurately described our current technology? He’d probably dismiss it as too nearsighted in some ways and too fantastic in others.

Skree and Thrum Coming Soon!

I stopped working on Skree and Thrum for a bit, but I’ve returned to it now and fixed up the setting and the instructions on how to play it. In all, the setting is a jump off point. I would really like to see how players might take it in wildly different directions.

So far reactions to the Energy System that the game uses has been very positive. It plays quickly but also has a lot of visual and tactile appeal because you get to roll a ton of polyhedrons. You feel awesome when you can fill your hand with d20s and chuck them because it’s an accomplishment.

The system deals with a lot of difficult situations very smoothly. Things like, fatigue (obviously, it’s the Energy System), healing, encouraging role play and allows the players to very organically build a character they really want to play.

So on the whole, I’m really happy with the game. It’s short, easy to read and get started on and offers a lot. I’d like to do a Supers game with the Energy System, along with a space opera but I’d like it to be something with a cool twist.

I have the cover to do. The other artwork is already done. It’s not much, but the book is only 20 pages so I don’t need dozens of pieces. The cover is about a quarter done. If I can sit down and get some time, I should be able to put it up on DriveThru soon.

Playing With Legos

I’ve had fun with games like Mobile Frame Zero but there’s a lot of dice and a little bit of record keeping that slows the game down. The addition of non-building block parts (dice) means I store my builds and dice seperately. I’m not here to complain about MF0 it’s a good game, I’m just relating my thoughts so you the reader will know where I’m coming from.

My son plays Legos with several other lads. They build cars, spaceships and robots and bases and they’ve constructed a massive hierarcy that says who can do what. They have ranks for individual build and they have a way of telling how powerful a build is. They use translucent parts of various colors to indicate the abilities of their build.

Using this concept, I’ve built a game that uses only building blocks as game pieces. There are two main aspects of strategy and a lot of the game centers on the player’s ability as a builder.

The main move is called a “Force Trade” where an attacker tells his opponent that they must trade parts off their build. Each player has a set of “Spares” that they keep to trade with their opponents. This is used to damage builds but it also gives the player a chance to recoup their build by using the spares to rebuild.

There’s a bit more than that in the core of the system, but not a lot. So far it handles a good deal of the things you could run into in a game except for a few, like a build that carries a giant missile. So far that would be a very costly weapon to use for not a lot of benefit the way the rules are constructed. I need to figure out a side rule that would handle that. Play order has a few hiccups that make it more complicated than it has to be. There’s a gem of a method for resolving it in there but it needs polishing to shine. There was another issue that was brought up, that I can’t remember now, but whatever it was, I’ll have to fix that too.

I’ll post the game as soon as I work some of the kinks out. So far it looks like fun.

Skree and Thrum

Skree and Thrum is it’s own game! I’m using the energy system for the mechanics and the results so far are really interesting. I’ve done a lot of refinements to the system and we did some play testing. So far that went really well, but I think I need a play example in the book to make things more clear.

The Energy System has a neat way of letting mechanics guide the story and then let the players tell it. It took some getting used to at first but the playtesters got into it later. A new feature in the system is that it ties story telling to mechanical advantages and advancement.

The setting of Skree and Thrum still needs a little something. It’s cool to go up against the aliens and challenges from the environment are dead simple to handle so that’s all cool. But the story needs more depth. More accurately, it needs the feeling of depth, because I like that the whole book is only 17 pages so far. No need for equipment lists or even skill lists. Just story and a few very open stat blocks.

I need something that really communicates to the players that they can go off in their own direction but guiding the world inside the vision of the story. I don’t think people want a “do whatever you want” statement but they’d like “there possibilities like this, this and this that you can use in your game”.

A lot of times this kind of thing gets hammered out in play testing. For example, one playtester wanted  a huge eagle as a companion. It didn’t fit in the story to have giant eagles but we imagined it as some kind of modified animal. Not a natural born eagle but some kind of altered beast. I don’t know what that means yet but I have ideas.

To Prep or Not to Prep

I have a problem. When I GM, I’d love to have rich detailed notes that breath life into my game. The problem is that every time I set out to really prep for a game, we never finish it. The game seems to go reasonably well. The players may even appreciate the maps or interesting NPCs that I came up with. They may even be really happy about the game. We just never pick that game up again.

I used to put it off as a fluke. After all, there are a few off the cuff games that we didn’t continue with. Maybe it’s just the odds that these games were the ones we didn’t continue.

As I intensified my efforts to prep more, I got more games that stalled. What is causing this? Does my presentation change? Do my players think they’re being railroaded because of the extra material? Do I over think puzzles and make them too hard? To all of those, I don’t really think so. I haven’t seen any evidence that says so. So what’s the deal?

Everything Is Light

My leg shook. I had let the shadow of the tree rest on my leg too long. I felt the cold creeping up my calf. It felt like poison.

We are creatures of the light. Where the light always shines, we emerge. Where the shadow continually falls they emerge.

He probed the edge of the forest. His smokey black form danced slowly between the trees. Just my presence here enraged him. Him a creature of shadow, amidst the shadow. He wanted to reach out and destroy me but the light of the clearing made him draw back. All the time I stood in the light, I grew stronger and as the light brushed against him and he pushed into the clearing he was growing weaker. Soon though, that would change. The sun would soon dim and set over the horizon. He would grow stronger and I would wane.

If I timed it exactly right, just before the setting sun, I could defeat him. Then I would have to make it quickly through the forest to the village below.

Normally the creatures of the dark are hungry, solitary creatures, gobbling up each other to become stronger. But this cauldhin beast was somehow different. This one bellowed out a low deep call that penetrated the trees. In the darkness a second smoke beast, a cauldhin, danced to the edge of the clearing.

They stood together, not attacking each other, not gobbling up the other. They stood on the edge of the clearing and patiently waited for the sun to go down.

One cauldin at it’s weakest would be manageable. Two would extinguish my light. The only thing left to do was to start a fire. The trees are partly of the light and partly of shadow. They turn light into darkness, digging their roots into the ground where it is always dark.

I drew my sword of forge hardened light and cut through some branches. Breathing light into them they flamed up. I relished the light as the sun began to set but a small fire  is not enough to hold back two smoke beasts. They edged closer and closer, jibbering and drooling black shadow. They were two and now the fire and I were two for fighting them.

My sword cut into the smoke black as they danced, swirling around me and my ally the flame. In the distance there was the howl of creatures of the dark. More were coming. How could more be coming? Dark ones don’t even tolerate the trees. They gnaw at their trunks and bite their branches off. How could more be coming?

The cauldhin wrapped around my sword arm and bit into it. The darkness flowed into my veins like icy rivers. I breathed light onto him, giving up some of my very own life light to get him to release me.

My sword arm, weakened by the darkness could scarcely lift itself. I switched hands.

Then one of the cauldhin leapt onto my faltering fire, it must have hurt immensely telling by the shrieking howl it made but the fire was out. My ally gone and my arm useless.

The smoke beast’s jibbering went from excited to frenzied but then to fearful. Some great rainbow of light was coming up through the forest. It’s strength was not unlike the sun for even at a distance I could feel strength returning to me.

A form like a man entered the clearing. His clothing like sapphire stone, his hair writhed like a fire and his eyes like the fire of a furnace.

I ran to him and he past me. With his bare hands he crushed the smoke beasts.

Thank you my lord! I cried out.

He smiled at me touched my arm and blew into it, restoring me to health.

The creatures of the dark are gathering, come and follow me and we will push them back under the ground.

I thought of my family in the village, would I ever see them again if I followed this man? Even so, something great had been offered to me, I could not refuse it.

I am your disciple my lord. I knelt.

Come then, there is much work to do. I cannot stop until everything is light.

Game of Draws

Over on theartifact.net, I wrote about a social conflict system that used draws for mechanical advantages over an opponent.

Then I thought, what if you made that the central resolution mechanic of a game?

I imagined two swordsmen looking for an advantage over the other.  Each character has their own draws, things that they want. They can be an advantage to them, or a disadvantage depending on the circumstance.  For instance “Has to win”, “Loves to make money” and “Wants to be a tough guy” could be some of a character’s draws.

Now what I’m thinking of for a resolution system is a system of offers that the characters can make to each other to get the advantage. For instance I’m going up against the character described above, I could offer him something like “First move” that plays on his “Has to win” draw and I can offer “Wait for my move” which means he can’t use his draw for this turn. The idea is that taking my “First move” offer is a trick that I can use to spring a trap with. Maybe my character has some kind of counter move that uses his attack to harm him.

The core idea is that each turn, a player has to choose between offers. I’d like to see multiple kinds of offers that would allow for a wide range of tactics.

My Self Inflicted 24hr Game System

I’ve been in a writing doldrums for a month or so. Then yesterday I had a few thoughts suddenly start buzzing around in my head and wrote them down.

The Energy System is a generic game meant to be applied to different settings. I’m shooting for something that can be played in a half hour. Because of that, the game doesn’t focus on individual actions by the characters. It focuses on the results. So rolling the dice isn’t about throwing a punch, it’s about the whole fight.

I have a setting in mind for the system where I’ll have more character generation, skill and equipment examples.

Energy System

More Thoughts On Solo RPGs

Still thinking about a solo RPG engine, I keep resorting to randomizers which tend to produce a mish mash of results. Sometimes a randomizer is brilliant, most times it just isn’t. The other element that I’ve been working off of is standard story tropes and trying to create a choose your own adventure on the fly but the engine still is to vague to guide a player.

What I have so far is to set the classic three act structure and then split those acts into two scenes each. The player could add scenes for a longer game but the idea is to start at two. Each scene gets a classic motivation that will be dominant. Here’s the structure I posted over on 1KM1KT a little while back.

Act 1 
Scene 1 Character generation. Get familiar with the character and set up a nice cushy life for them. Maybe they just got married. Maybe they just started a business and it's booming. Give them something nice.

Scene 2 A call to action. Roll against the motivations and use it to create the quest. If it's a positive motivation, then the character may have to leave the good life to take up the quest. The character taking up the quest could be reluctant if the call is from a positive source. If it was negative then something the character loved is destroyed. This should be played out in your rules but keep in mind that the odds are stacked in the favor of the motivation rolled. Maybe the character's business is saved but they realize that this kind of thing will keep happening unless they do something about it.

Act 2
Scene 1 Set up for the fall. The events of this scene set the player up for failure. If the scene is positive, the character thought they were doing the right thing but finds out it was all a trap, or he hurts the wrong people and has now made enemies. For motives like "Someone that helps" perhaps a mentor informs the character that they will have to accomplish some extraordinary task to succeed.

Scene 2 Put them in the worst position you can imagine. This is where the character is brought as low as they can go. (I'd have to work up ways of using the positive motivations to do this.)

Act 3
Scene 1 Get them out of it. The character must escape from jail, beat back the robot hordes, whatever.

Scene 2 Resolution. The final showdown. Will this be a comedy or a tragedy?

In each scene other than character generation roll on the following table.

Roll 1d20
1 Someone to pursue a goal (the Protagonist)
2-3 Someone to avoid the goal (the Antagonist)
4 Someone that helps (like a mentor)
5-7 Someone that hinders
8 Someone encouraging to consider a plan
9 Someone encouraging to reconsider a plan
10 Someone encouraging logic or reason
11 Someone encouraging feeling or emotional fulfillment
12 Someone encouraging excersizing control
13 Someone encouraging being uncontrolled
14 Someone to appeal to conscience
15-16 Someone to appeal to temptation
17 Someone who supports (speaks for) efforts
18 Someone who opposes (speaks against) efforts
19 Someone to express faith
20 Someone to disbelieve

The next piece of the puzzle is to give the player goal posts to reach in the story. This might be randomly generated, something to the effect of, “The main character is pressed by enemies until a resource is used up.” Which would be followed up by specific guidance that this could mean health, meaning the character is severely wounded, ammunition, fuel, food, water or whatever resource the player might target. Pick a target and then play the scene out until they’ve reached that low point.  Others might be “Trapped on all sides” or “Outmatched in skill” with the idea of having a healthy list to work off of.

Lastly, I wanted to think about classic solo games and what they use to entertain the player. There are only a few general strategies that I’m aware of.

First is the puzzle, games like solitaire create a puzzle to solve by restricting the type of moves available and then scrambling the resources the player needs. I haven’t worked out how to do this in an RPG yet.

Next is the mob, a lot of games have a number of pieces that automatically move toward the player’s pieces and the player must avoid or defend against the mob. This is more native to an RPG but one of the things that most games of this type focus on is strategic movement. For RPGs that use miniatures and grids to play, this is slightly easier to emulate but there are a large number of games that do not handle tactical movement. I have to resist the temptation to create additional rules to fill in the blanks. There needs to be a way to use existing rules, even when they’re not well developed for this kind of challenge.

The third is the stronghold, where the players must out maneuver defenses to gain access to a specified point. This at first looks easy but is one of the hardest to accomplish since the defenses have to be well arranged and the underlaying pattern should be difficult for the player to unravel. Only, the player is the one setting up the defenses so already has intimate knowledge of them. Still, using something like the Tech Challenges in The Artifact could simulate this.

The fourth is spending resources, here the player has what he needs to accomplish the task and can apply the resources in many different ways but only a small subset of approaches will actually work.

I think these structures could flesh out how the player builds a scene but there needs to be specific instructions on how they’re implemented. That’s what I’ll be working on next, adapting these structures to RPGs so that using them is a connect the dots for the player.