Frontier: opening the book

I find myself thinking a lot about Frontier these days. (It’s probably because I have some self-imposed deadlines for ‘Illusion’ and ‘6’.)

Over the last couple of years I’ve harvested some twenty names from the freelancer forums of RPG.net as I try to get a feel for the art that I want for my games. Some of them are for games in development, some of them capture the feel of games not even fully realised. I just want to grab the names, the web sites and keep them while my brain stews over the content.

The opening of the Frontier book should have a visual representation (otherwise known as a picture) of Kumbu. It needs some sparse flavour text to describe where to go from there and then it should move to background describing how to get there.

It’s a nice feeling, crystallising the book in your mind. Makes you want it all the more.

COPS – Japan Stylee

Eamon, a technologist in the area of Cybernetics I know[1], posted this:

“If you peruse Japanese foreign-resident forums you’ll read a depressing amount of stories about foreigners being told to sign kanji-laden papers ‘so you can go’, only to find they’ve signed a confession – which the courts accept as totally truthful. That acceptance of the confession is because ‘that’s the way it’s supposed to work in Japan’. The chastened criminal confesses, justice is served, end of story. Foreigners get it even worse, because arguing against one’s confession is seen as insulting to the court. Bigger sentence time.”

…and some other observations of the police forces in Japan. It’s interested reading and story-nugget-laden as well. I don’t know what Eamon expected from Japan but it would be interesting to see what he has made of it so far.

Sub to his blog. You never know, he might talk Sci-Fi!

[1] Eamon was one of the contributors to Crucible Design and one of the go-to guys for Sci-Fi technology, physics and the interactions between bones and stainless steel joints (via a PhD in the wear and tear on hip replacement). I kid you not. In gaming sci-fi, his only failing was ‘knowing too much’ and therefore losing some of the ability to partake of ‘handwavium’ for plot elements. He does know an awful lot about Traveller but I don’t know if he games much these days.

M&M2e: hero or zero?

Mutants and Masterminds gets a lot of airplay on the internet forums: any time someone asks about superhero games, a raft of people come out of the woodwork to impose it upon you. I bought M&M 1st Edition a few years ago and was less than enthralled. It was D&D…with superpowers. Considering the general miasma of dislike I had for d20-based systems, it wasn’t surprising that I dismissed it after the first reading as being a bit of a dirty dog. M&M1e was therefore exiled to the boxes rather than the shelves of RPG books I own.

Scroll forward on the time machine to 2008 and I’ve decided to have another look at M&M, this time in the second edition. Everyone keeps going on about how it’s not like d20 any more and how it’s a great a and flexible system.

At First Glance.
I tend to flick about a RPG book rather than starting from the beginning. I found myself in the NPC section and then moved backwards to the character generation section. M&M2e is certainly colourful and they have a raft of superhero archetypes to choose from. As I’m looking to model one of my favourite characters ‘Lionheart’, I have a flick through them and find that none of them seem to model the ‘superhuman soldier’ that I hold dear to my heart. The closest seems to be the Paragon (Superman clone) so I keep his power levels in mind. Lionheart was never a ‘lifter’ and 90 tons is an awful lot so some things will need dialed down a peg.

Starting Off.

There are a lot of rules.

We’re treated to a checklist of what to work through and the first stumbling block I find is Power Level (which is the first game-related jargon I’ve hit so far). This seems to be some sort of measure to allow you to compare superheroes. It would be wick to start as a “First Level Brick” but Power Level usually starts at 10 (in other words, you’re a 10th level character) but you can dial it down to 1 and up to 20 in these rules. Power Level has multiple effects. It tells you how may points you get in character generation (which is sadly not just a multiple of the Power Level) but also defines the maximum levels of “attack bonus”, “defense bonus”, “save difficulty”, “toughness save”, “fortitude, reflex and will saves”, “skill rank” and “ability scores”. Character generation is therefore quite table heavy (which I dislike) but I think that once this cumbersome process is over, you probably have a very complete character.

Power Level 10 allows you to have 150 power points (max attk/def 10, max save DC +10, max toughness +10, max save/ability +15, max ability score 40, max skill rank 15). M&M2e recommends that a Paragon have 20 ranks in Attributes and Skills, 0 Feats, 86 points in Powers, 32 points in Combat and 12 points in Saves. Right.

Creating the Character
I’m going to go with that division, but swap the points about. Figuring I can buy a “Power” to increase Strength and Constitution to desired superhuman levels, I just add points to the others as desired. Lionheart was never a brainy guy but he was athletic – just not superhumanly so.


Abilities Skills
STR: 10 (+0) Notice:8
DEX: 18 (+4) Intimidate: 8
CON: 10 (+0) Climb: 8
INT: 12 (+1)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 12 (+1)
14 points 6 points

From here we have to get out basic abilities, skills, feats, powers, complications and drawbacks. I buy up my DEX only to find out that Strength and Dexterity don’t directly influence your ability in combat. Okay. Now I have to read a bit to see where to go from here. Character generation skips around a little.

Attack, Defense and Save, 5, 5 and 10, giving a 10 for each of these modifiers.

Skipping to Feats. Ones that look interesting are:

  • Assessment,
  • Blindfight,
  • Improved Critical,
  • Improved Initiative

They’re only 1 point each so it seems foolish not to. I nab four points from Powers and put them into these feats.

So, now, Powers. Lionheart is super-strong, super-fit, super-tough, highly resistant to disease and poisons and is almost impossible to kill due to a fast regeneration power. Powers in the big list on pages 72-73 I should look at include…

  • Enhanced Ability adding 30 points to Strength, 20 points to Constitution
  • Immunity: 2 points (poison, disease)
  • Regeneration: Recovery Rate: heals every action without rest from any damage condition: 17 points
    So far we’ve spent 69 points on Powers out of an allocated 82 points, leaving 11 points left over.

I figure I’ll jigger some points about, add a few more points in feats, maybe make him more charismatic or something.

Looking at the powers and abilities, it seems more sensible to put those Enhanced Ability points straight into base Strength and Constitution. Sure, I lose the ability to push them but they also can’t be nullified (a thoroughly annoying effect of many superhero campaigns). That really means the only power he has is Regeneration. That’s a little depressing but not dissimilar to Marvel in this respect. The temptation, if your only power is Regeneration, is for you to put your character in harms way and worse, for the GM to send the first attack of every battle in your direction. In the ‘character assassination’ game Lionheart was always the first to get a bullet in the head – the argument being that his enemies knew it would put him out of action for a few minutes. It was a bullshit argument, of course, a bullet to the head of any other character would have put them down for good. Wouldn’t that have been a much more sensible tactic?

So now what?
I have to start reading the system? And the combat system. And I dread it. This game is one of modifiers. There are modifiers for everything and more meta-stats than you can shake a stick at. And abbreviations as well. I’m slightly confused at what I bought earlier. I’m looking for the definitions of MAx Save DC modifier, Max Toughness, Max Save/Ability Bonus (from the table on page 25). I bought three values in the combat section: Attack Bonus, Defense Bonus, Save Bonus. But I see from page 24, I have to consider an entire checklist of saves (see above) which need to be bought separately. Argh. There’s something to be said for an integrated character generation workflow. At least I know what to do with those extra points!

Opinion?
I do not like this game. Let’s get that out of the way. I also don’t hate it but it’s not a book I’ll likely keep on the shelves when shelf space is so precious.

There are a lot of positive points. Concepts core to d20/D&D will be familiar (no matter what anyone says) to D&D players so it’s an easy jump. It may be missing core D&Disms like levels and hit points but it’s more qualitative than that – it’s written for the core audience and I think it does it very well.
It’s flexible and modern. It’s got a shedload of supplements as well which is often an important factor for a GM (not for me though).

There are a few negatives. I haven’t changed my opinion of the system and the main book is very dry (though the art pieces are lovely). I think it’s really poorly explained and I am willing to bet that there are some min-maxed exploitations of the system out there. The system is flexible but in a market which contains other ‘flexible’ systems such as Wild Talents, PowerGame, Marvel Classic and even Champions, this flexibility is a mere bullet point.

To me it’s mid-complexity (marred by poor explanation and layout but it’s not Champions!), mid-flexibility (it’s no Golden Heroes yet not also Wild Talents) and just not what I’m looking for. I do want to pick up one of the supplements and see how good the setting details are.

Transhumanism

In 1966, Transhuman was defined by F. M. Esfandiary (later, FM-2030) as:

included physical and mental augmentations including prostheses, reconstructive surgery, intensive use of telecommunications, a cosmopolitan outlook and a globetrotting lifestyle, androgyny, mediated reproduction (such as in vitro fertilisation), absence of religious beliefs, and a rejection of traditional family values. (Source: Wikipedia

The word itself has come to mean “next evolutionary human” when it really means a stage of “Transitory Human”, where we start to notice differences. Of course, nothing in the above quote has anything to do with evolution as we can achieve transhuman status within our own lifetimes. The evolutionary process is described only in successive generations.

(RPG.net has a thread about a new game called Eclipse Phase – “a game of transhuman conspiracy and horror”.

From the thread and web page it seems like a Transhuman space-meets-Traveller-The-New-Era type background especially with:

the driving powers behind the wars—both AI and transhuman—were infected by a mutating virus with multiple infection vectors—biological, information, nano—dubbed the Exsurgent virus. Whatever its source, this virus has been known to sometimes transform its victims into something unexplainable … something monstrous and reality-altering.

…with a dollop of Cthulhu. I will likely buy the book (the same way I bought Sufficiently Advanced) though the blurb doesn’t inspire me. Is it that I want a game filled with some hope for a change? It might be that I’m not looking really for the inexpicable in a game setting (which also belies my general annoyance with Call of Cthulhu – in a world where there are snuff movies, special effects and Tom Savini, is it possible to actually go insane from seeing something horrific? Would the existence of something like that freak me out? I don’t think so!)

Horror and Sci-Fi sometimes works well. Alien would be the most obvious example of a resounding success. It’s more likely that you’ll find a dozen examples of where Sci-Fi didn’t work well with horror – the most obvious one I can think of being Event Horizon. I once ran a somewhat abortive game using the 2300AD system. The players were investigating a space anomaly (which turned out to be a Colour). It put the crew into a torpor and the ship sustained their bodily functions. They arise from their suspended animation nearly a hundred years later and find that Colours, sentient but not sapient, have been harnessed as a energy source and mechanism for ‘jump drive’.

I like Sci-Fi games but a lot of them end up with a resolute “What now?” after character generation is complete. Blue Planet and Transhuman Space have been accused of this at various times. I think it’s less a problem of the game (especially as we see the amount of material available) but more of an imagination issue – whether the GM can put forward a gaming framework. Jorune managed this well with the Drenn trials and SLA Industries with their BPN system.

Of course, Frontier is my transhumanist game set in a far-flung post-apocalyptic future. Of course, in Frontier, Earth still has a major, advanced technological human civilisation and has fully recovered from the apocalypse that overtook most of the West. There is a reliance on technology for science, research, law, democracy and war. There are sapient and sentient artificial intelligences which act as both tool and mentor to humanity. My inspirations for Frontier are many and have departed considerably from the “Star Trek But Better” conversations that Eamon, Colin and I would talk about over a decade ago. We never specifically mentioned Transhumanism (probably because to a greater degree we were already living Transhuman lives.

At the moment I’m working on ‘6’, ‘illusion’ and doing bits and pieces on the other lines. Frontier remains, for the time being, a long distance project.

Current games in development

As mentioned a few posts ago, here is a list of the games that have gone through our idea filter and dropped down into the Book Development stage. If you’re a regular reader, the chances are none of these are of surprise to you, although I’m not sure we’ve blogged about all of them. So, in no particular order, here is the list.

  • Illusion (working title) – Set in the 19th Century, players are in some way involved with a magical stage act. A game of secrets and showmanship, where nothing is ever quite what you expected. Uses a thematic system based on playing cards (although dice-based rules are included).
  • Additional 23rd Letter Material (working title) – The game of psychics and conspiracies. Over the years, we’ve written (and rewritten) a bunch of source material that was never published. The Projects Sourcebook almost saw the light of day, but not quite. This body of work includes detailed information on playing Network and Project campaigns, revised psychic abilities, GM information on the Powers, Terata, and more.
  • War of the Worlds: Earth (working title) – Set after an invasion by Martians which has left physical and ecological devastation. Based on H. G. Well’s “The War of the Worlds”, characters pick up the pieces after that novel. See the War of the Worlds: Earth category for more info.
  • ERIS – The system used by The 23rd Letter, War of the Worlds: Earth and others. This book will be available for free PDF download.
  • 6 – A spy game, set in the height of the Cold War. For advanced role-players only, this game uses a very narrative system and Tiered Play to create intricate plots in an atmosphere of fear and mistrust.

There is no set publish date for any of these, but if there is any game that you’d especially like to see first, please let us know in the comments. War of the Worlds: Earth is likely to be the last of those games to be published, just looking at the amount of work still needing done.

The 23rd Letter: in film?

Back in late 2006, I got a bit of a shock. Maybe you do as I do but I like to beachcomb through Google and see what people are saying about the things I have written. I pick up a few comments about The 23rd Letter and Zombi most often, usually through RPG.net which seems to be the big granddaddy of RPG-related internet portals. It’s pretty nice for the most part and I get to talk to some interesting people (and make excuses for the things I missed). As The 23rd Letter is still on sale via Key20, every now and then I get an email asking about it which is why I’ve started posting updated materials on the blog here. There have been some relative champions of The 23rd Letter, like Chris Lupton and Max Cairnduff, who have both gone above and beyond in the past to make the games known and for that I’ve always been grateful.

Anyway, this was the shock.

 

This page linked to Starway Pictures, a Hollywood-based production company, who were producing an adaptation of The 23rd Letter, a film about ESP and psychokinesis. I was utterly gobsmacked.

The script for “The 23rd Letter” was written by Jim Beck, an aspiring screenwriter who had also written gaming material for Paradigm Concepts , a small RPG company, but Jim Beck was mostly identified via his blog at blackroosterfilms.tripod.com. My stuff is also listed at pen-paper.net and a few years ago, t23l would have been a lot more on the lips of people.

Information on the 23rd Letter movie was posted all around on Filmmaker magazine, XLCinema.com and the Digital Video Information Network. The stars mentioned it on their myspace pages and there seemed to be loads of mentions of the name as I started digging deeper. Heaps more material is available on the Starway Pictures blog in February 2006, March 2006, April 2006, May 2006 and November 2006 including demo footage and pitch reels.

I found out about it in November 2006 and have been sitting on it for months. Why? Because I was really unsure at what to do about it. Am I supposed to assume the worst?

What do you do in this case?

[UPDATE: I’ve been talking to Robert Sanders @ Starway via email (and inadvertently to his lawyer (who didn’t get the hang of “Reply All”) and I think we’re resolving any issues. I do not believe that there was any infringement of IP so it’s now down to whether they change the name or we agree to jointly use the name).]

How we design a role-playing game

I thought I’d share a bit about how our game design process works and (in a subsequent post) what we’re currently working on. This is not necessarily the best way to design a game, and we’re always looking at ways to get more stuff done, but at the same time we are only two people, geographically separated and both with full time jobs and families. This is what works for us.

Idea

We have lots of ideas. Any time we have an idea that might be game worthy, we put it on our (private) Wiki. Currently we have around 40 ideas that are worth making an entire game from. At this stage the idea is simply a 1-4 line premise. This could be as simple as “A spy game” or as in-depth as

Status: Refugee (working title) – Set today, the Solar System is destroyed by a nova. Luckily for us, the Interstellar government intervenes and transports all 6 billion of us off-world, in the very short space of time we have left before the Sun explodes. We all then become refugees spread across dozens of worlds, with no clue about laws, customs, aliens, technology, where our families are, etc. Many, many campaign and adventure possibilities.

Germination

We let the ideas sit on the ideas page for a while to germinate. Because we tend to read that page relatively frequently, we’ll see something that catches our eye and remember something to add it to the idea. Eventually, one of us will write a piece of fiction or a scrap of a system or background, often as a blog post. This gives the idea enough weight to drop into …

Development

At this point we give the idea it’s own wiki page and move any content to there. Usually we’ve had enough work done on this point to at least fill one page. Our wiki sends us updates via RSS any time someone makes a change to any page, so that’s usually what sparks things off. I’ll check out an update Matt has made, then I’ll add a bit to what he’s done, based on whatever goes click in my head when I read (and vice-versa). This tends to be bursty, so we get 4-5 “bits” done at a time, where a bit can be anything like a collection of relevant links, a piece of relevant fiction, some background notes, or even an entire system.

Our projects hang out in this stage for a while, until they gather enough of these bits that the wiki starts to become an unwieldy place for them to gather any more. We currently have 12 games in this stage, some of which we have blogged about (as seen under our Game Design category). This is one area where we are inconsistent on what happens next, but generally we go into …

Book Development

We create a book outline (with all four parts of course) that gives us some idea of how big the book is likely to be. Then we’ll slot whatever blog posts and wiki material we have into that book outline in a desktop publishing app.

From there we keep adding written material, look for artwork, rewrite things we don’t like and so forth. We currently have 5 ideas in this stage, at various stages of completion. We expect to see one of them drop out of this part of the funnel and into print Real Soon Now.

Paper, PoD, PDF

All of the books we’ve published (whether as Crucible Design or LateGaming) have been less than 100 pages. In general, this has felt big enough for the game that was being written, and every time we start out with a new game, one of the earliest questions is “how big is the book?”

With the advent of PoD and the easy acceptance of PDF-only games, this question is now preceded by “are we making an actual book?” The major downside of printing a book is of course the up-front cost of printing, although once you get beyond a certain number of copies (usually around 1000 or so, depending on your printer) it becomes a lot more cost effective than any print-on-demand service.

In general, we prefer to have printed books, and we believe that most of our target market are the same. It’s a lot easier to play a game when the rules are in a book that can be easily handed from player to player, and a lot less exclusive than having the screen of a laptop on a the gaming table. However, people have printers (and printers in work) and some folks would rather save the money or environment by buying the PDF and printing out at their leisure.

Personally, I love buying books. I love the “new book smell”, the cracking that pages make when you first turn them, and reading something paper as opposed to on my screen. While I have no qualms about buying (or selling) titles on PDF, I will always want something on paper, and in my old age I like to have things that are quality. With any book, I prefer to buy hardbacks than paperbacks, illustrated over plain, and so forth. The caveat there is what my wallet can afford.

Which segues nicely to print-on-demand. No up front costs to the publisher, and a physical product in the consumer’s hand, which seems to be a good compromise. But you can’t stack it on the shelf in a shop and even knowing that the PoD quality has made these books virtually indistinguishable from offset printed ones, there’s always that little niggle of doubt about whether it’s as good as “the real thing”.

So, what does all this mean for LateGaming? It means that as much possible (which usually means budget allowing) we will offset print a Limited Edition of every game, hard-bound if possible, along with offering the books via print-on-demand and digitally via PDF.

Game book layout: the four parts

In trying to layout some of our recent game projects, I’ve noticed some common components in every book, which has led me to the conclusion that every game book really consists of four parts:

  1. Character Generation/Creation (Chargen)
  2. Game Rules
  3. Setting
  4. GM Section

Different games put these sections in different orders or interweave one or more of them into single sections, and put different levels of emphasis on each one. Some games even go so far separate those sections into different books.

Is there a right order for these? Although I’ve put them in an order above that is purely to show that they are four in number. Often Character Creation and Game Rules are intertwined, and the same with Setting and GM Section. Likewise, the GM Section will often contain Game Rules that are not applicable to players. Sometimes games will make the split into Player Section and GM Section, with sub-sections of Game Rules and Setting. Usually Chargen is bundled under the Player Section in that case.

Let’s take a few quick examples (from memory, so apologies if there are any inaccuracies):

  • GURPS – Chargen comes first, bleeding into Game Rules, and finally GM Section. There is very little Setting in the main book. Many supplements exist with Setting, and many of those also include extra Chargen, Rules and GM Section.
  • Pendragon (4th Ed) – Chargen is again first, bleeding into Setting. Then Game Rules, with more Setting, and finally a GM Section with more Setting. The Setting is tightly interwoven throughout the entire book, which is why Pendragon ranks highly in my estimation. Supplements follow that same pattern.
  • SLA Industries – Setting comes first, then Chargen and Game Rules, with many of the Rules surrounded and influenced by Setting. The GM Section is comparatively small.
  • 23rd Letter – A little bit of Setting, followed by Chargen and Game Rules and then a GM Section which includes more Setting (given the conspiratorial nature of the game).

I think what is important is that your game (or our games) consciously include all of these sections, whether or not they are labelled this way, or are separate sections. Any game will need to have components that fall under those four headings in order to be complete.

Do you have a preferred order for these? Seen a game which didn’t have all four? Is there one that must be there that I’m blatantly missing?

BRP

Let it be known that I hate BRP.

(because I fumbled a dodge twice tonight and put myself out of action both times.)

Really made me feel like a great and powerful warrior when natural rolls of 00 and 99 completely devastated me. Twice.

Balls to it.

Saur: introduction

Half a decade ago, when Crucible was still about, we tasked ourselves with a job to create games settings in one week and bring them back to the fold. The catch was, the group decided what sort of game you were to write. The one that was given to me was subtitled “Roman Empire, No Magic”. I presented it to the group and have been resurrecting material from my old notes for the last few weeks. There’s a lot more written about this but I doubt that it’s mainstream publishable materials. I’ll post a bit more later but if people are interested, comments would be welcome.

Brainstorming: Resurrecting a game idea I had a while back about Earth having developed slightly differently – Saurians evolved into more humanoid shapes and humans and neanderthals had some arrested development. The humans were short, squat, dark haired mutes whereas the neanderthals were literate at the very least and used as slaves and pets.

Introduction
Five days to the Millennium and the Emperor is planning his ascension. Standing upon the balcony and peering down at the plebeian hordes that crowd the streets below. They were preparing his feast no doubt, building the grand throne upon which he would begin his eternal rule. Already he could hear the chanting of the priests as they prepared the way, calling the spirits to attend and the gods to listen. His attendants fussed with his robe, distracting him from his reverie. He narrowed his eye and growled.

Chosen zzLena ilya zzRenu so zzCatha watched her mate, Emperor zzRathu, from her chambers. At the ascension she would be freed from her current duty as his brood female and would be assigned to another. She had provided an egg for zzRathu but she knew it would never hatch. Even now it lay smashed rather than buried in sand and the ashes of former Emperors. zzRathu has offended the Bruot too many times with his words and deeds and though they could not deny him one of the Chosen for a mate, they would all ensure that he would never bear an heir. The ascension was a great honour among the Champions but zzLena knew, as did all the Bruot, that it was a privilege for the Sages and Fools – Emperors who had been so great that they were made eternal or so foolhardy that their removal was deemed necessary.

She barked at her Mur manservant who looked at her with his dark knowing eyes. He fetched her a cup of Celeta – the liquid still warm from the veins of the Celeta (a small rodent) and she drank deep. He walked out of the room, presumably to get more Celeta, and she relaxed letting the warm liquid drip down her throat.

zzRathu watched the Mur enter and smiled his toothy smile. He padded across to his pallet and picked up his ceremonial sash. “It is done” the Mur said. zzRathu strode into the next room and gave a throaty chuckle. zzLena sat, tongue lolling and looked at him with her dead eyes. He ran his hand over her magnificent crest and across her dry raspy tongue. “My egg is safe from your Bruot witches. And my ascension will be on my terms. No flames shall sear this flesh”…

The Mur said nothing. His motives in this were unfathomable to the mighty lizard king who stood before him. Unfathomable to all of the lizards.

The WhiteChapel Project – early history

The Project in Whitechapel was formed in September 1941 as a subsection of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE was directed to encourage espionage behind enemy lines and build the core of a resistance cell in the event of a land invasion. As a result, they were entirely dependent upon the security of radio transmissions and a lot of resource was allocated to eliminating the circumstances which would lead to a break in communications. Better radio sets, more secure operating procedures and the development of proper ciphers all aided their mission.

The ISRB (Inter Service Research Bureau) operated as a cover for the SOE and was responsible for developing modern clandestine technology as well as recruiting agents for the SOE. The Frythe Estate near Welwyn Garden City was the initial test ground for the use of psychics in espionage under the guise of a wireless research unit code-named “Special Signals”. Later, it became Station IX, a weapons development centre and the Special Signals group was moved to a small building on Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel. The SOE was dissolved in 1946 and most of their operational functions absorbed by MI6. The Special Signals group, however, survived. Their staff roster was filled out with German scientists, recruited from the post-war skirmish between the Allies for their knowledge.

Dr Saul Benedict had been head of Special Signals since it’s inception and guided the group through the post-war political turmoil by forming a significant attachment to the then-prime minister, Clement Attlee. While Attlee could not be convinced of the need for the SOE, the Special Signals group were able to secure their own future and Attlee consulted with precogs and telepaths regularly. He became known as an extremely effective politician and possible the most effective Prime Minister to date. Their consultations helped him decide the correct course of action and also how to build a cabinet of people he could trust. In return he pledged support for Benedict’s special interests and permitted the Project in Whitechapel far-reaching authority.

The establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 paved the way for regular screening of the population for psychic potential and the Whitechapel Project enjoyed a regular stream of enthusiastic recruits, young, cheerful and ready to do their bit for king and country. A centre for psychic research was opened in Huntingdon, funded by the NHS rather than the Special Signals group. When Churchill succeeded Attlee he was astounded his own words were so prophetic when he had accused Labour of introducing “some form of Gestapo, no doubt humanely administered in the first instance”. One of his first actions was to restrict NHS funding to Huntingdon and from that moment on Benedict and his advisors realised their remit had a wider reach than the ephemeral governments

RPGnet whiners strike again

I loathe it when the RPGnet whiner crew crawl out of the woodwork and accuse people of being passive aggressive with the threat of bringing down the mods.

You can’t even express an opinion without being asked to tone your language and the P-A finger is then pointed. That’s the absolute definition of the Ad hominem attack. I’ve ranted about this before.

Don’t like what someone says? For God’s sake don’t attempt to refute them, just dismiss their argument by calling them passive-aggressive.

Here’s a big fuck-you to anyone who uses that term in a debate when they can’t think of anything intelligent to say.

Resolutions: Dealing with Canon and Context

Canon is the past in the play. It establishes facts which have gone before. It doesn’t mean it can’t be retconned afterwards but for the most part it is immutable (or at least it should have immutable facts and mutable descriptors, the latter of which may be changed due to Context.

Context is the present in the play. It represents experiences more than facts and, due to the way we lay down memories, is probably more immediately mutable than Canon though if left, it can be harder to change because it forms part of our experience memory and not just written Canon (which is essentially the basis of ‘show, don’t tell’ – if someone visualises the experience they will have deeper connection to it rather than just having the story related to them).

Accepting is where you acknowledge and agree with the contributions from others to the Context settling it as Canon. This is most easily visualised when you try to reconcile the order of events taking place in a system which does not have a strict action-point (or similar) mechanic. In systems with Action Points or Strike Ranks, everything happens according to the time. To move the story along, it can be necessary to fudge the timings, e.g.

Zakary and Carey are two of the contestants in the Garhound contest and Zakary has caught up with Carey who is descending from the Storm Apple tree with a ripe Storm Apple. Though they are perhaps 4-5 SRs apart, the GM permits Zakary to assault Carey and steal the Storm Apple. Why? Because it will make for further flavour and discussion in the game. Who loses out? An NPC who wasn’t doing well in the race anyway.

In a more narrative game, it can mean just the end of discussing a scene. Not everyone needs to be entirely happy with the outcome, but there has to be a sense of mutual consent so that the game can continue.

Returning – negates the contribution to Context but also provides options which can be considered. This is reserved for when there is disagreement within the group as to the interpretation and outcome of a scene. This is most common when there has been a GM fiat about a character and the player disagrees with it. It behooves the player in this circumstance to not only make his grievance known but also to provide a suitable alternative. This may, dependiing on the detail, be returned to the player again or returned to the group as a whole for a better resolution, e.g.

It would have been entirely appropriate for other players to dispute the conflict between Zakary and Carey because there was an immediate gain for Zakary. Though he had no chance of winning the race, Storm Apples are a potent magical item. What convinced them ultimately was that it would have little effect on their characters and in no small part would give Carey, an annoying NPC, a harder time of it. They had agreement and the option was not returned.

It’s much harder to retcon against a dice roll because the randomising element is a central tenet of roleplaying. We use them to make the decisions for us and if we stop ‘trusting’ their decisions, we may as well switch to a fully narrative process (no bad thing in of itself).

systems, systems, systems

Is it right to design another system for a game?

At the moment we’re still writing War of the Worlds, though we’ve started development on Status: Refugee and a Supers game. In all three, the working system is to be a derivative of ERIS from “The 23rd Letter”.

Part of me wants to use ORE because I like Wild Talents and Reign so much. But the licensing terms for it have been very vague.

Portraits of the Dead.

MetalFloss has a link about death:

“From Stanley Burns’ book Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America:These photographs were a common aspect of American culture, a part of the mourning and memorialization process. Surviving families were proud of these images and hung them in their homes, sent copies to friends and relatives, wore them as lockets or carried them as pocket mirrors. Nineteenth-century Americans knew how to respond to these images. Today there is no culturally normative response to postmortem photographs.”

I’ve been asked more than once to “re-create” the impossible. Adding the dead to portraits of the living.

Ransom

The idea of ransoming game material is definitely new and innovative. It’s being done rather successfully by Greg Stolze for his Reign supplements and there’s a Delta Green book ‘Targets of Opportunity’ which is being funded this way as well.

Shane Ivey wrote:

“If we collect enough “pledges” through Fundable.com to cover the various and high costs of manufacturing “Targets of Opportunity,” we’ll do it now. For each pledge, we’ll ship you a copy of the book by priority mail. (Or by airmail for fans outside the U.S., but the pledge needs to be higher to make up for the high cost of shipping.)

If this doesn’t work, we’ll hold off on it until we save up enough cash the old-fashioned way to release it. That would be … later.”

The 1000 copies of Targets of Opportunity will generate probably $35 000 of revenue. Take away fees for (6) writers and (1) artist and the cost of printing and it’s a small profit for the company.

Would I pledge? Yeah, except it’s DG material which puts it safely in the hands of kinnygraham. I’d only be tempted to read it if I got it.

Some naysayers describe it as a begging bowl. I disagree. Palladium did a begging bowl previously where they asked their fans to just send them money, old socks or whatever because you love them so much. For that you got very little. This is simply pre-pledging for a book, making a tiny profit and making sure that if 1000 copies are printed, then there are enough people out there to buy them.

I think it’s a good plan, though obviously with the names they have involved and the following they have with Delta Green (now the de-facto modern Cthulhu setting), it’s about a million times easier. Greg Stolze does his Reign supplements for $1000 a pop which he tends to meet quite quickly.

This idea really meets up with the ‘1000 fans‘ which I wrote a couple of months ago. 1000 fans buying $100 worth of books from you every year is a living, no? And what is $100? A main hardback book and 5 or so small booklets? As I said elsewhere – this isn’t about scamming $100 out of every fan you have but of working hard, getting good quality books out there and reaping some rewards. Obviously the RPG market is a tiny fraction of the music market but for some, it just might work (especially when you consider I’ve spent probably £200 (nearly $400) on RPG books* in the last six months.

*Maxx supplement, Saipan supplement, Sufficiently Advanced, Deathwatch 2000 Supplement, Reign, Thousand Suns, Psi World, Grimm, Dark Heresy, GURPS WW2, another GURPS WW2 booklet, Will To Power, Godlike GM screen and about $100 of PDFs just for starters…

23L Superhumans

Having some spare time yesterday evening I resurrected some of my notes for ‘superpowers’ in T23L. It wasn’t part of the plan to have 23L superhumans – though I was accused by Jeremy of writing my own ‘supers’ game when we published The 23rd Letter. We did have quasi-superhumans in the form of the Furies and the Terata but nothing was ever done with them.

Some of the thought process for the superhuman system was taken from the Amber system. I quite liked the way their stats were arranged:

  • Human – covering the full range of Human ability
  • Chaos – stronger than any human
  • Amber – stronger than both Chaos and Human
  • Ranked – allowing you to be a stronger Amber-ite, perhaps even the strongest.

For 23L/Supers, I envisaged a triple scale over and above the abilities of Humanity.

The 23rd Letter has a range of 1-7 for human endeavour. Given the media it is trying to emulate, I expanded this to 1-9 so that there could be some decent Batman/Captain America/peak of human ability in there. The rationale obviously was that someone with Strength of 1 would be weedy and weak whereas someone with Strength 9 would be sprouting muscles on their muscles!

I added a second level, Superhuman 1 (also called Basic) which covered the range from 11-19, inferring that even the weakest superhuman was still stronger than the strongest human. All individuals with Strength at Superhuman 1 would be of similar strength ability – the second digit giving you an idea of the amount they had ‘worked’ it. Someone with Strength 11 would probably be able to press a ton and could be thin and unmuscled. In comparison someone with Strength 19 would be heavily muscled or, at least, tremendously toned and should, in theory have better control over their strength.

I then added a third level, Superhuman 2 (also called Advanced) covering the range 21-29 and a fourth, Superhuman 3 (also called Master) for very high level supers.

This also extended to the Powers they would have. And even within powers there were powers that may not be available to all superhumans (essentially the first generation superhumans had access to some powers and could get very competent with them, later ‘model’ superhumans had access to better powers but didn’t have as much opportunity to become skilled with them). The Powers were in broad categories like ‘Flight’ or ‘Coordination’ or ‘Strength’. Each power would have a description of ‘Basic’, ‘Advanced’ or ‘Master’ and were meant to be built as packages, e.g.

  • Basic Flight – the character can fly up to 70 mph.
  • Advanced Flight – the character can fly at up to Mach 1. He also gains modifications to his body to better enable this, skin toughness and resistance to wind chill and friction. The player can buy Basic Coordination at half cost.
  • Master Flight – the character can fly at virtually unlimited speeds. He is resistance to the effects of this travel, gaining Basic Resistance for free. The player can buy Basic or Advanced Coordination at half cost.

Like in The 23rd Letter, the ‘powers’ were tied into the game world so that someone with Basic Strength (boosting them from Strength of 1-9 to Strength of 11-19 as well as other benefits) would be called Achilles-class. Someone with Advanced Strength would be Talos-class. A Master-Strength superhuman might be Heracles-class. A Heracles-class superhuman might have other benefits too, like being virtually impervious to harm.

This was the basis of the system of ‘More Than Human’ which was on the LateGaming site for years (since about 2001 when Jared put together the first edition of this web site) but now comes uncomfortably close to the as-yet-unreleased ‘Beyond Human’ touted by Eden (which will undoubtedly come to market around the time we release whatever this game turns out to be – if history (Zombi vs All Flesh Must be Eaten) is anything to go by.

I’ll post more on this later.

The Stars Are Right….over there….

The Internet STELLAR DATABASE is a lot of fun.

Look at the entry for Barnard’s Star especially the submits at the bottom where you can search for stars within a certain radius. How I wish this had been about when I was working on 2300AD scenarios (My favourite being ‘Bayern’ which exceeded the 7.8 light year limit on inter-stellar travel)

Looking at the entry for Sol we find:

“The “8” in the Detected Planets entry is not an error. Pluto is not a “planet,” but a huge, close-orbiting, low-eccentricity Kuiper Belt object. With a big moon. Of course, some die-hards out there still insist that it really is a planet, more for sentimental reasons than anything else. They’re welcome to live in their little fantasy world. Neener neener.”

Status: Refugee – Timeline

Here’s a snippet of some of the stuff I’m writing for Status: Refugee. It hasn’t been okay’ed by Aidan yet so details may change. But it should give you an idea of what we’re working on. I want to bring several themes on board: themes of salvation, themes of alienation, of being a stranger in a strange land, of being an immigrant in a new world of opportunity.

  1. 1998-07-17
    Astronomers take note of unusual stellar seismic reports from Barnard’s Star, a dim red dwarf in the Constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder — west of Cebalrai or Kelb al Rai (Beta Ophiuchi). Though ancient, Barnard’s Star had always experienced flare events, though this flare was twice as hot as the normal temperature of the star. This was not fully analysed until 2002 and the results not public until 2006.
  2. 2004-11-02
    Astronomers describe an object travelling at 12% of the speed of light entering the solar system. As it passes within the orbit of Saturn, it disappears. Due to lack of evidence, it was not reported to higher authorities.
  3. 2008-05-04
    First Contact. Humanoid simulacra of alien origin approach more than half of the world’s governments. They bring data, projections and propose a solution. Within a decade, they claim, the Earth will become a barren wasteland. All mammalian life on the planet will be extinguished. The seas will boil. The plants will burn. Life will continue on Earth, but it will not be human.
  4. 2008-05-06
    Leaked documents from the First Contact cause widespread panic across the world. Major cities experience riots, demonstrations and looting of businesses and personal homes. People start to hoard food and water, sunscreen sells out everywhere.
  5. 2010-09-15
    The North American Repatriation Act is passed into United States federal law.
  6. 2011-04-02
    Barnard’s Star explodes into a supernova. It will be six years before the effects are felt on Earth.
  7. 2015-07-04
    Official End of the United States of America as a nation.
  8. 2018-02-14
    Estimated date for first effects of the Barnard’s Star detonation to affect Earth’s biosphere.
    Gamma Rays induce a chemical reaction in the upper atmosphere, converting atmospheric nitrogen and depleting the ozone layer leaving the surface open to harmful solar and cosmic radiation.

So that’s it. In a decade we lose the greatest treasure we own: The Earth.

Mutants and Masterminds.

Every now and then, someone asks on the RPG.net forums…

What’s the best supers game?

and every time the Mutants and Masterminds people come out of the woodwork to tell us that M&M is not a d20 game. It doesn’t have levels, hit points or attacks of opportunity. Now…this last one is a D&D specific thing but Levels and Hit points are a staple of D&D games.

Mutants and Masterminds has ‘Power Level’ which affects the following:

  • Attack Bonus
  • Defense Bonus
  • Save Difficulty
  • Toughness Save
  • Fortitude, Reflex and Will Saves
  • Skill Rank
  • Ability Scores

It also tells you how many points you can spend on powers.

Also, on page 25…

As the heroes earn additional power points through adventuring, the GM
may wish to increase the campaign’s power level, allowing players to spend
some of their earned power points to improve traits already at the cam-
paign’s limit. Not raising the power level forces player characters to diversify,
improving their less powerful or effective traits, and acquiring new ones,
but it can make the players feel constrained and the heroes to start looking
the same if it isn’t raised occasionally. Increasing power level by one for
every 15 earned power points is a good rule of thumb, depending on how
quickly the GM wants the player characters to improve in overall power.

Hm, so it has levels, but they’re not used in the traditional way. You start out at a certain level and ideally fight foes of a similar level. It’s a bit like starting out making D&D characters at a certain level so you can play a particular scenario and then never really bothering about the XP thing. I dislike XP systems a lot.

As for Hit Points. It seems it’s true. There’s no Hit Points. There are ‘saves’ against damage ad things called ‘Damage Conditions’ but without buying the book, I’m unlikely to find out what they really mean.

I’m still not struck on the Feats but it has improved since M&M1e. For my money, however, I’m going to stick to trying to use Wild Talents.