Protector Progress

Protector, our new superhero RPG is coming along. So far I’ve been concentrating on the character generation as this is a big part of getting the game off to the right start. I’m focusing on a light life path system. The character gets “Decades” that define a few skills and attributes. Then they get “Events” that happen within that decade. The events are major turning points in the character’s life. The player then uses one or more of the character’s events to define and sculpt their powers.

At the moment, this is very open ended, very story focused. It seems well suited for older more experienced players, but so far my young son has trouble with it. I’m hoping to nail down the process a bit more so generation is flexible and powerful for experienced players, but fills in almost all the blanks for newer/younger players.

To do that, I’m going to need a bunch of examples of heroes and villains for the book and a glossary of super powers. I think this will lead newer players to follow the examples by wrote but that’s ok. As they grow, they’ll learn to use the story to drive the character generation.

Protector

I’ve wanted to make a Superhero game for a long time now. I don’t want to just make another Supers game though. I’d like something that stands on it’s own. While making the Energy System, I finally had something that I felt would fit the kind of Superhero story I like. But a system by itself is not enough.

I want something that captures a few core concepts of the superhero genre.

I want super humans with a life before powers. This implies a life path system of generation.

I want the super human’s life to have some bearing on their powers. Their angst or desires should influence the way their powers are used or appear.

I want random powers, but to not be limited to random powers. Theres something really enjoyable about a super that has unexpected elements. I don’t want to be stuck with totally random though.

I want a world that is easy to understand, but one that shows the effects of a world of superhumans. A world that has superhumans for any length of time is a very strange world. The world will react.

I’d like some explanation for the superhumans other than “mutations” or “radiation”.

There’s something to be said for misfit supers and low power settings that are uniquely enjoyable. I don’t want to limit the game to misfits though. I’d like high and low power settings.

I’ve started work on all this already. I have the story already worked out. I just have to work out the lifepath elements and how to tie the powers into them.

Protector

My name is The Visionary. I was a young boy when Earth first needed a protector. The great nations of the world were on a path to greater and greater glory until The Great War, or as people call it World War I now.

That was when the Slavers came down from space and landed on the border of France and Germany. The European nations had been building up armaments for decades and mutual defense pacts were called upon and all the world went to war against the Slavers. But it was not enough. Tens of millions were gathered up. We could not defeat their air ships and all their technology.

Then, when all hope was nearly lost, a great stone fell from the sky, it looked like it would impact the Earth and wipe out all life but as it neared the Earth, but it stopped and floated above the ground. It had settled near the point of the original Slaver base. Without warning, men and women from all nations of the Earth felt a new energy inside them. Abilities beyond the realm of man were bestowed upon them. I received the gift of immense strength, resilience and the ability to fly. We became superhuman.

I was known as the Crusader in those days. We drove off the slavers and freed some of the many that were lost. The whole world rallied around us, we weren’t only superhuman, we were super heroes. It was the golden age.

Some of us were granted gifts of great intelligence, so naturally humankind rallied around them and they were promoted to leadership of many countries. The whole earth benefited for a time, but other super humans became jealous and seized power for themselves. Even this the world tolerated for a time, but when many of the celebrated heroes became despots and tyrants, mankind rebelled.

The war against the super humans as you know, eclipsed the war with the Slavers in it’s destructiveness. Millions more died in World War II. Humankind realized that to rid the super humans of their power, the great stone, our protector, would have to be destroyed. I myself took up a position in front of the stone and barred it from any harm. Many joined me, many died. As they fell, I began to feel their power flow into me. I became stronger, and stronger until there was nothing that could harm me.

From the beginning, I had not wanted to hurt any man. I also could not allow mankind to destroy their protector, the great stone that came from the heavens. I picked up the great stone from it’s resting place and carried it into the sea. I took it down to the deepest depths of the ocean where mortal man can not tread. There we stayed for many years. In that time, I was the primary vessel of the Protector’s power. In times of great need, I could see man’s groaning and I would emerge to set things right. Even then my presence was only tolerated.

The Protector still tried to help humanity. Although most of it’s energies were locked up in me, I could see across the globe many that were given small gifts that they had to conceal to survive. Super-humans were still feared and anyone showing a gift could be locked away in vaults to be studied.

It has been many sad years that I have sat on the ocean floor. I see through both space and time. I am The Visionary. I can now see deep into space. I see that once, there was chaos and suffering all throughout the galaxy until a great and mighty race took up the job of protecting any peoples that were being oppressed. People, not able to protect themselves. They heard our cries for help when the slavers came and they sent a member of their own people to rescue us.

I still cannot talk to my friend, our Protector. I do not know it’s thoughts. I only know that this great race has come to our rescue when the galaxy was about to turn it’s attention on us before we were ready.

There is one more call I have to answer. I can see it coming in time. A greater threat faces man and I do not know if we can overcome it. I see world after world fall to them. They are monstrous and terrible. I will go out to meet them in battle one more time. I see my aged frame falling to the Earth.

I see my own death, but when I die, the power stored up in me will again flow into all those that have gifts. You will get a portion of my power. You will grow strong. Then my responsibility of saving the Earth will fall to all of you.

They are now coming and I go out to meet them. Goodbye.

Ages

Players can star their game in any of the ages, depending on the super hero experience they want. Players may also choose to play at the transition between ages.

WWI

The war against the Slavers.

The Golden Age

The reconstruction and the rise to power of many super humans.

WWII

The war against the supers.

Misfits and Margins

The age of hiding, when any powers are weak and supers are feared.

The Coming Menace

A new alien threat comes to enslave Earth.

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.