Large Numbers In The Energy System

I was having a problem with large numbers in the Energy System. The problem didn’t show up until I started to work on a super hero game using the system. In it there is one vastly powerful superhero that is part of the background story. To use the character in a game required rolling 30 or more d20s and adding up all those dice. It plainly didn’t work.

This is mainly a problem because the system doesn’t scale to things like simulating a WWII battleship or a starship. It was beyond the system, until now that is.

To give you an idea of how the system works, a player gets abilities that grant them die steps. For instance, a skill with four die steps would take a skill from a starting d6 up through a d8, then a d10, then a d12, and then to a d20. Each step making the roll more effective, but d20 was the practical limit of dice steps since most people don’t own d30s or d40s.

The solution is to make a second tier of dice steps. That may sound overly complicated at first, but in for most characters it doesn’t come up so it’s a special case rule. If I was making a space opera, it might be needed more frequently to simulate vehicles or space ships.

So how would a second tier work? If a skill has 8 dice steps, or the equivalent of 2d20 it equals a 1d4x10. If another 4 steps (another d20) is added, the die becomes 1d6x10 and so on. If the character or equipment has 28 dice steps (7d20) they get a 1d20x10.

Is there anything past that? Of course! If you combine the total of 56 dice steps (2d20x10) it becomes 1d4x100. Add another 28 steps for a total of 84 steps* and it becomes a 1d6x100 and so on. 196 steps equals 1d20x100, two of those then flips to 1d4x1000 ad infinitum.

There is one problem with this though. One of the core concepts behind the energy system is that when you roll a die and get a one, the die depletes and can’t be used again until regenerated. That still works under the system, but one of the big draws of higher dice steps is that they deplete less often. A 1d4x10 either never depletes (since it never rolls a 1) or it depletes far more often than a d20.

I could say that if you rolled a 1d4x10 and got a 10, you then had to roll a d10 and if you get a 1 on that die, you deplete the die. The problem is, even though that technically works, it’s kludgy and adds a step for something that is going to be pretty rare. I think it’s better to say, that the die can take damage (which works similarly) but not deplete on a roll of one.

*This is a totally ridiculous number at this point, but I’m offering it to show the system could handle very very large numbers if needed.

Superman Apologetics

My son and I just went to go see Superman vs. Batman with some friends. Both of us were a bit behind on the background story. I hadn’t seen any of the recent Superman or Batman movies but I was aware of their plots. My son never saw a Batman or Superman movie, ever.

So I’m a bad geek dad. It’s not like I haven’t been trying to catch him up on about fifty plus years of movies. It’s really hard to keep up with popular culture when you’re trying to show your kids where it all came from. I just haven’t gotten to DC superheroes yet. I’m still trying to find time to show my kids Forbidden Planet.

Anyway, I had to do a lot of explaining about the DC universe and it’s history. The funny thing is I knew a lot of the comics the new movie referenced even though I don’t think I’ve looked at a DC comic in a decade.

Superheroes are a fun subject to discuss on a scientific level, they really make zero sense on the surface, so trying to wriggle out a plausible explanation for how they might actually work is a lot of fun. Superhero apologetics.

Superman is probably the best example of an impossible superhero. His abilities are beyond any other hero and therefore stretch credibility the most. So when my son asked, “So if Superman gets his powers from the sun, how does he get that much power? He’d have to absorb huge amounts of sunlight.” I was very proud that my thirteen year old really gets the idea that energy doesn’t come from nowhere.

It would be no fun though to just agree with him and end the conversation there. So I had to try and figure out how Superman’s powers might just work.

This is what I supposed.

Superman obviously could not get enough sunlight to power his abilities. So maybe our sun doesn’t power him, maybe it gives him his powers. Suppose you took a plant that photosynthesizes light to another solar system and the different radiation there, reacted differently with the process of photosynthesis which produced different molecules of sugar than fructose. These molecules altered the plant in some way. The radiation isn’t giving the plant food to power it, but the altered molecules give the plant an ability it didn’t have before. Maybe something like that is happening to Superman?

This is backed up by his reaction to radioactive Kryptonite and that a nuclear warhead detonating near him, almost kills him, something taken from The Dark Knight Returns as is a bulk of the movie. It’s said that these other types of radiation “drive the sun’s rays from his cells” which is kind of nonsense. However, in The Dark Knight Returns, superman draws “the sun’s” power from a sunflower. This also doesn’t make a lot of sense since the solar radiation in a plant is stored as sugar. So Superman’s abilities come from sugar? Maybe his cellular biology is different enough that simple sugars alter his biology.

Ok, that doesn’t get us anywhere near explaining him though. It’s just the start. To move on, I’ll draw on some more old school comic book history.

The next ingredient comes from John Byrne who rebooted the Superman series in 1986. He offered, what is to this day, the most intriguing description of Superman’s powers. Martha Kent comments that tight fitting clothing that young Kent wore, never seemed to tear or rip. Loose fitting clothing (like a cape) were prone to damage though.

Byrne seemed to suggest that Superman’s invulnerability was a force field that extended a millimeter from his skin surface.

The other bit comes from Superman himself though. Puzzled, he comments that when he picks something up and then starts flying, he no longer feels as if he’s using his muscles to lift the object. His ability to fly gets transferred into the thing he’s lifting.

So again, Byrne seems to be suggesting that Superman’s flight is a form of telekinesis.

This points to one thing to me. Superman’s powers might not be physical, they might be mental. Not consciously accessed, but subconsciously. Maybe even his “heat vision” might be a subconscious reflection of his mental abilities. It would make more sense than having cutting lasers built into his eye sockets.

That doesn’t fix the energy in energy out problem though. Mental powers should still require energy. Or should they? Maybe, just maybe Superman’s mind is able to do things like alter quantum states. A lot of things in physics seem when reduced to their most fundamental level, to simply be there because a law says they’re there. Some physicist are looking into the possibility that our universe is a computer simulation. Maybe Superman has the subconscious ability to alter values in the universe’s code?

“If we are living in a simulation, then everything is software, including every atom in our bodies, and there may be ‘back doors’ that the programmers left ajar.” – David Brin

Maybe Superman is accessing back doors. As such, he does not exert force in the traditional sense. He’s rewriting the universe. When viewing Superman from that standpoint, he begins to make a lot more sense.

Everything Is Light

I’ve completed my first Novella length work and I’m really excited about the result. Based on the original short story I posted here some time ago, the story grew very organically. I’ve heard from writers that their stories sometimes just appear on the page as they write and that was the case with Everything Is Light.

The story follows a simple trapper from what would be the equivalent of a bronze age town, but residing in a different universe from ours. The physics of this world are different from ours and follow their own laws and logic. Our main character Airin is drawn into a hero’s journey, where he’ll have to choose between the possibilities opened up by a genius ready to change everything.

The story is suitable for young adults and has several illustrations. It’s a quick read for an accomplished reader and a fun jaunt through another world.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

I Didn’t Do It!

Want a murder mystery party game? I Didn’t Do It! is a great game for up to eight players. Each player is a suspect except one who is the investigator. The suspects have to account for themselves over the last 24 hours, only they may not be able to substantiate everything they say, and more evidence can contradict what they’ve said.

The mechanism for finding the murderer isn’t to establish evidence, it’s by finding inconsistencies in the alibis that the suspects give that the investigator hones in on who the murderer is. So, say enough to be convincing, but don’t say too much or you might become the prime suspect.

New Direction

I’m moving in a new direction. Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time now but couldn’t because of game my ongoing game development. I’m learning a new programing language so I can start coding for iOS devices.

I have to start my plans out small so that I get some experience and actually accomplish something. With that in mind, I have a few ideas that could be turned into apps without having to become a master coder.

In the long run though, I’d like to make a game platform. Something like an RPG’s game engine that allows you to take a game wherever you want. But that’s a bigger goal that will be built on the experience of building some more utilitarian apps.

Protector Update

The majority of the game is written. I’m adding NPCs here and there to add some big shot heroes for the different ages.

I started doing art, but only have one piece that I want to use at the moment. One big thing I’ve run up against is that most super hero stories only go as far back as World War 2. Protector goes back to World War 1 and that ends up having significant impacts on what heroes would look like. For one, most men had beards. Women wore big skirts, how do you use your powers in a skirt? If anything, the early age is going to have a more steampunk look than a normal superhero story.

It gets easier to go back to capes once you get past the first World War. There are a bunch of super hero inventors and it’s almost like the 50’s happen in the 20’s. The spandex suit could be invented during this time and be popularized by super heroes. There would then be a backlash against it.

This sets up some interesting cultural precedents. Supers after WW2 that wore spandex would be people that see that age of supers as heroes while the majority hate them. It would almost be like saying you were a neo-nazi.

Then there’s the WW1 look, that supers might try and evoke to remind people of the time when supers were saviors.

Steampunk equals saviors.

Spandex equals monsters.

I still can’t figure out what look women supers should look like. I do have one sketch of a mech like hero shooting lasers out of it’s eyes. Maybe I could put a nice lady at the controls, or maybe it’s autonomous and the lady is it’s master.

It also occurs to me that nurses were pretty active in the trenches, starting with their simple dresses may get me somewhere.

What If The Good Guys Lost?

I was watching a movie the other day, you know, the kind that has a prophecy and the hero that has to overcome the bad guys before they cement their power. There were dire warnings that if the baddies weren’t stopped, they would become immortal and rule forever.

What if that happened? What if balanced wasn’t restored? What if any hero after that was doomed to fail?

I think that would be an interesting story space to explore. But what could the players strive for? What would their goals be like?

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.