Thrum

I turned back for a moment as we rode away from the floating blight. The blue white glowing and billowing  forms pulsed slowly as the sun descended in the orange red sky. We would never again see the blight as a sanctuary.

We rode as fast as our track sleds would carry us. We entered the burnt forest, what was once a deep green and cool sanctuary of life, was long ago scorched and charred by the solar storms. Every ten years, our sun sends out a belch of burning plasma that sears the planet. It was the first weapon that the invaders used against us. It destroyed all the great cities of man, all his great works. These things were before my time but I’ve seen the pictures.

Our only sanctuary is underground. Our city was built in an spent salt mine. It had been converted to a science facility full of seed banks and data storage. So when the first solar storm destroyed the world above, great minds were preserved below. They slowly rebuilt, developed the Blades to defend against the Skree, and repopulated.

But we’ve grown too large for our salt mine. The hope was to get a new colony in place before the next storm. They have not been successful. Our mission to report on the progress of the colony will be a troublesome report.

The charred and twisted trunks of the ancient forest give some protection from the Skree. As fast as they are, they don’t seem to be able to maneuver well. We opened our throttles all the way and traveled single file, launching over hills and stumps.

We scanned the terrain diligently for anything out of place. A Thrum disguises itself, sometimes as a large rock, sometimes as a stream of water but often as a tree. If we’re lucky, the Thrum will get it’s disguise wrong.

We weren’t lucky. From all around, the sound of a great drum sounded. The sound grew greater and greater in a rolling tone that could be felt in the chest and head. Rapidly, it grew louder than any other sound.

Up ahead, one of the burnt trees split opened and peeled it’s outer husk away. Inside, glowing purple and pink, thin unimaginably strong filaments poured out. We turned to scatter away from it.

“Blades! Blades!” I tried to call out, but I couldn’t even hear myself screaming the command. I fired off my first blade at the filaments. The chemical laser swept over them, burning through some.

Dreseco, overwhelmed by the rolling drumming collapsed off his sled. The filaments immediately found him and started dragging him in, peeling first away his armor and then his flesh.

I watched the horror unfold in seconds. I fired my second Blade and struck the armor still in the clutches of the filaments. The shape charge detonated and damaged the filaments and prevented Dreseco’s body being desecrated any more by destroying it in the blast.

I have never seen a Thrum thrash around so violently. I couldn’t be sure but I think that I deprived it of it’s prize. The filaments thrashed out in all directions.

The sled suddenly grew lighter, as I looked back, I saw Feneshi being lifted away from the back of my sled and torn apart.

I cried out his name and almost turned back. I wanted to avenge him, to do something but no, there is nothing that a man can do to a Thrum.

We sped a way, regrouped and continued on. There was no time for tears.

Skree

Eachigo died without honor. The Skree penetrated his back and then leapt to Gamelo. The Skree move faster than any man can react to. Our blades flashed over Gamelo’s head in a vain attempt at intercepting it by chance. It was to no avail, the Skree pierced his chest, killing Gamelo and detonating the shaped charge in his armor. Two dead for one Skree. If Eachigo hadn’t turned to run, his shaped charge would have killed the Skree and Gamelo would have lived.

I called to my squire. “Boy! More blades!” Feneshi, my squire was a good lad. He pulled the blade cores from his belt and snapped them into their holders. “More juice too.” I reminded him, as if I needed to.

“Yes sir.” He replied and quickly ejected the power core from my back and put in a new one.

Then we heard another one coming. “Stand back Feneshi!” I cried as I pushed him down. My first blade blazed but the blight that hung in the air was getting in the way.  The other knights fired their first blades off. By fortune, one of the beams sliced into the approaching Skree, cutting it in half.

“We have to get out of this blight forest! They never used to chase us into the blight!” I called out. “Drop anything we won’t need, leave the spent blades and cores. Maybe we can retrieve them later but I fear there is a Thrum here.”

The men’s faces turned white at the suggestion. “Surely sir, not in the blight. How will we travel?”

“It’s only been a matter of time before they learned about us coming here. It will make bringing back the new colony even harder, even more will die on the trip. The floating blight slowly kills off anything that comes near to it, so I for one have never been comfortable coming here. If the Skree and the Thrum don’t kill us, the blight surely will.” I shook my head. “You’ve left the extra supplies? Good, lets move out. We’ll travel through the burnt forest. It will give us some protection. Keep your ears sharp”

Zecho took my shoulders “Bachui, I’ve followed you for five years and I trust your judgement, but the Thrum love the burnt forest. Wouldn’t it be better to travel through the plains where the Thrum don’t have anywhere to hide? Yes there will be Skree, but we have a chance of defending against them. With a Thrum, a hundred men would not be enough and we are now six.”

I put my hands on his shoulders in return, looking him in the eyes. “I understand your fear Zecho but we will have to move slowly through the plains so we can hear the Skree coming. We may be able to out run a Thrum. There’s a better chance that at least some of us will make it back to the city and report to Lord Hishi while there is still enough time to act. If we take too long, then we have failed our mission. It has to be the forest.” I surveyed the faces of the knights and the squires. It was an unpopular choice and I feared that they would not follow but a look of determination slowly came over their faces as they nodded to indicate their support.

“To the forest then” Zecho said with a face of stone.

Star Punk

Star Punk

Star Punk

For 2013 24hr contest entry, my game is a space opera without limits. In Star Punk the players get to collectively define major technologies of the game setting. There’s no limits to what the players are able to choose as their traits. Go munchkin on it or create some kind of balance to your abilities. It’s up to you where the game goes.

To create the pocketmod, print out the page and then fold it according to these instructions.

This is my first game to include a full index! Only the rest of the game is only seven (actually 6) pages. Hey, it was part of the contest to have an index.

My 2013 24 Hour RPG Attempt

I started my Harder Than Granite 24 hour RPG entry today. I’m mostly done with it. I’d like to get a playtest in before submitting it. My entry this year is called Star Punk. A narrative game about insanely powerful space opera characters.

Thinking About Design

I’m always trying to chip away at what I don’t know. One of the things I have a difficult time with is understanding things that are ascetically pleasing. I know it when I see it but I’m not terribly good at producing pleasing reliably. Another thing is trying to connect with people emotionally through a story or a game.

To improve on this, I’m looking into product design. I’m taking some tutorials that I hope will prove useful. Unfortunately so far, design is a collection of vague ideas that may or may not adequately guide me. It’s possible that these ideas are just building up a vocabulary to get me thinking in a different way. So far I don’t see a clear path to enlightenment.

So far the clearest information I’ve seen on design, is the book Made to Stick. There’s also a really useful document The Fundamental Templates of Quality Ads that reaches the fascinating conclusion that the most creative ads are based off six templates. Almost saying that by limiting an ad designer’s options to ones that are already effective, the designer is more free to explore more interesting  options than the ones that don’t work.

The part that worries me is that knowledge can limit the designer’s ability to communicate. I listen to conversations between designers or talks by them and they seem to be talking about intangibles that they can’t fully define. It worries me that I might gain a language about design but not the ability to design. In the mean time, the new language cuts me off from the average person.

I’m unlikely to know if I don’t try learning. I hope that by keeping the worry in mind, I remember what it was like to lack the knowledge. That way I’d retain the ability to communicate the problem to non-experts.

I hope.

Mysteries

Whisperers is a game that centers around finding someone that either doesn’t know they’re being looked for or doesn’t want to be found. In the end, that’s a mystery. I know games like Gumshoe and others have systems for handling mystery but I need to figure out the system that fits exceptionally well with what Whisperers is all about.

Each player will start out with strategies that they use to find a Whisperer. Because this is likely to be the first part of every game, it has to be a fun part of the game and not just drudgery that you have to do to get to the good stuff.

One of the problems with most mystery games I’ve seen is that they center around clues. That works for novels but in a lot of games clues fail you. The problem with this approach is that you’re giving the players a fact, not an event. The clues have no depth to them and if interpreted wrong can lead to dead ends.

What I’m thinking of is defining anomalies that the clues come from. These are weak points in the secret that you’re trying to discover. They’re the bit of hair on the floor, or a chance sighting in a grocery store that the witness didn’t know was significant until later.

I’m not sure how to approach this yet. Would it make sense for a GM to define the secret and then build the defenses that obscure the secret around it or just assume that the defenses are there and define the anomalies that would allow the secret to be discovered? The latter seems easier to me but maybe there’s a hybrid that would make the structure more rich in detail and allow the GM to think on their feet about the player’s investigation.

That’s the goal though, a way to make the player experience of investigating fun. I’m also thinking about time shifting the events that are being investigated, so that the attempts to obscure are rolled for by the NPC and the PCs get to roll against that. This way there’s more of a head to head competition going on between the NPC and the PCs. The players will get a flavor of what they’re up against before they ever meet the NPC they’re looking for.  That sounds good to me because an investigator can learn a lot about the person they’re looking for by the clues they find and I think that would help encourage that feeling.

I just have to effectively communicate all that and put it in a structure that’s simple and fun. No problem, right?

Whisperers

The newest project in the works is a FUDGE based RPG called Whisperers. I’m still working on how much I want to nail the setting down and how much I want the players to fudge it. Once I work that out, I’m aiming for a lite game that should be easy to pick up by anyone who’s ever played FUDGE.

Here’s an excerpt.

“I tell ya’ I thought I was the only one that knew about them before I met you. They took my son and then my husband before I knew what they were up to. At first I just thought my son was getting moody going through puberty but then when he disappeared and Aiden started to act the same way. Well then I put it all together.

I actually found the cocoon that they put Aiden in. What was left of it anyway. “ She wiped away a tear. “I mean, he wasn’t the best husband, but.”

I found the thing that killed Josh. You know, my son? I found it. It had been using his identity for months. I mean, it looked like Josh, only it wasn’t. It even called me ‘mom’. But it wasn’t him. I wasn’t sure at first. It put on a good show but then it’s eye’s rolled up and it started whispering. It nearly got me, I could smell that sweet metallic smell. It almost put me in one of those cocoons.

I’m just glad I had brought my .357 because the last thing I remember thinking was to pull the trigger.

I’ve killed five of those things now. I track them down. I hunt them.”

In the past , I’ve made my RPGs available for free. In this case I think I’m moving away from that model. I’m anticipating something low cost but the free RPG market has the disadvantage that once a book is downloaded, it’s often forgotten. I know, I’ve done it too. I imagine that if a person has a small investment in the game, they’re more likely to actually get the game to the table, which is my main goal for publishing games.

Hello world!

For the longest time, the store32.net url and theartifact.net url have pointed to the same place. Over time, we’ve been working on projects other than The Artifact but haven’t moved the focus off The Artifact. Now that’s changing.

Although we’ll continue to work on The Artifact and Steampunkfitters, we’ve also created two board games with game crafter, Bubs The Robot children’s book about non-verbal learning disabilities and we’re looking at several more projects.

Clearly Store32 is getting bigger than just The Artifact and RPGs. In the future there will be even more diversification and that’s okay. Maybe one day it’ll be mobile games. Maybe one day it’ll be short stories. We’ll have to find out and it’ll be fun!

So check back periodically and find out where we’re headed.