Thursday, November 30, 2023

Campaign Report: the CHV Natani

 Recently, the Silver Gull team has had a lot of missed sessions. A lot of life is happening. We all still want to play, but we are in a critical part of that campaign that really requires all hands on deck. In the interest of keeping us gaming I proposed a few months of hiatus and a different game where the PCs can easily come and go as they please, and that would be played in a far more disjointed, episodic fashion.

I proposed a White Star campaign where the PCs are a group of space bums who come into a light ship, and cruise the galaxy trying to make a buck. This has the bonus of letting us play a game based on Swords & Wizardry, so we aren't even making a radical shift in game system. Characters not involved in the current adventure are "In Cryo", "Doing business at the local station", or simply "staying on the ship" for the current away mission.

I plan on documenting it as I have done for the Silver Gull.

Oct. 30th: Setting Up

My players here are old friends, we don't need much of a "Session 0" they include my brother, my best friend, my brother's best friend, and a cousin. Most of us have been playing together since the early 90s, or if not, for at least 5 years. This session was spent doing two things: rolling characters, and establishing the basics of the setting.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Current Project

 When it comes to my hobbies I don't so much choose my project is they choose me. I come up with an idea and I chase it as far down the rabbit hole as I'm willing to go. Because of this, some projects get done very quickly, some get put on the back burner. I have several books I'm working on that I do in small doses because they are either such a huge project doing it all at once would be masochistic,, or because I don't feel any time crunch to do the . The ideas that capture my imagination usually get the Lion's share of my energy.

Over the Summer I spent a fair amount of time running a solo game. I used the Mythic GM Emulator, Alone Among the Stars, the Science Fiction Codex of Lists, and RPG Pundit Presents #100: Star Adventurer as the engine let me scratch my itch to explore space in a tiny spaceship with a small crew.

One of my goals was to discover a rich, and lore-filled campaign setting over time. I wanted the joy of discovery as a part of how I was playing. To that end, I use the 'Codex and some random online tables mixed with the Alone Among the Stars to create the worlds I would visit and the alien races I would encounter. Whenever I encountered an alien species or culture, I use the 'Codex to flesh it out until it at least felt like something you might read in a Star Wars is extended universe Wiki entry.

I even used AI to help me enhance the experience. And wrote computer software inspired by the random star system generation tools of Traveler, the Cepheus Engine, the random space jobs generator from Donjon, and the jobs and commodity generators from the 'Codex. Once I had a bare bones, I would let my imagination run wild for several hours to flash in more details until I had entire worlds and cultures built up for my characters to explore in.

It has been a really engaging experience that took up much of the copious free time I had while on vacation in July. Because I was using random alien species in a Sci-Fi setting rather than creatures with a folkloric basis like in Dungeons and Dragons, I was constantly surprised and rewarded by what I learned. And my notes can now comfortably fill a whole role-playing game or a TV series "setting bible."

I even taught myself to use some AI tools to help generate some of the content for myself.

As you can imagine, I have been dying to share more of it with you all. I have a blog of the individual adventures with some of the notes to cover my first five voyages in the setting before I lost my crew to a TPK.

But, as of late, much of my energy has been directed towards building a unique role-playing game that borrows elements from White Star, Star Adventurer, Cepheus Engine, the 'Codex, and far more.

As I've written in the past, one of the biggest obstacles to a good SF setting is its total lack of predefinition. Fantasy games have the benefit of several canons of folklore, pagan mythology, and established conventions to work on, science fiction does not. Science fiction has to put effort into building a world and informing the reader, the viewer, or the player about it well enough that they can immerse themselves in the setting. This is time consuming. The only shortcut that ttrpgs have to this is to build a game based on an existing franchise.

This is why, the majority of SF games are built on franchises such as The Expanse, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Generic science fiction role-playing games are not as common, nor are they usuallysuccessful. Where a science fiction game tries to build itself out of whole cloth, it generally has to do so by spending an immense amount of energy on lore. 

Some games have been quite successful at this. Traveler, Shadowrun, Rifts, Numenéra,, and the Strange have done a great job of building enough lore that players can dive in. In the case of Traveler, Rifts, and Shadowrun, they have done so through years of slowly building a sizable canonwith the help of fan engagement. In the case of Numenéra,, it has been done through very intelligent World design and conventions.

Some science fiction games suffer from over-development. For example, Shadowrun has so much lore now that a player who knows the ins and out of the setting has an even better advantage over a new player that it is even more important than mastery over the rules. The same is definitely true of Rifts

I find that sits in a sweet spot where there is enough to go on to run the game well, but it is flexible enough to allow you to put almost anything you want for your scenario in it. You can learn all you need to know by reading just the core book. That is the balance I strive for. Enough information on aliens, culture,and technology to let the players have a sense of what they might be able to accomplish, but, not so much that I am being prescriptive of how the game plays, or giving advantage to someone who memorizes the lore.

I also decided to build my game on PANZA, as the race / background / class  / subclass structure of PCs is actually pretty close to olde-school SF games like Traveler, and that 5e-style engine can actually a lot of fun for a grognard like me, if you throw out a few things. Personally,  I am making the following changes:

  • Characters are reduced to 4 attributes instead of 6: Wisdom has become conceptually meaningless, and STR and CON should be interlinked.
  • Pcs have randomized starting HP 
  • Death saves are gone
  • CHA serves as a measure of luck, as well as attractiveness and savoir-faire
  • RP inspiration is optional
  • B/X D&D morale & NPC reactions (modified slightly) are imported 
  • Diplomacy is now a skill governing protocol,  trade, and information gathering, it cannot simply change NPC reactions.
  • Doman level play is incorporated by adding rules for colonizing a Star System
  • A slot-based encumbrance system is added as non-optional
  • Sense Motive, Investigation, and Perception skills are removed; these can be handled by askimg questions from a high-info GM.
  • Formalized random encounters are imported to feel more like AD&D's Structure
  • Only a few character options grant psionics, rather than the widespreaf magic use of modern systems
  • XP system is simplified, CR is discarded
  • Monster stats are simplified
  • My own eight classes will replace the fantasy-themed ones, each with 2-3 subclasses .

I am hoping this offering will offer a new, original Sci-Fi game experience.  I ha e also built in a way that my game Eternal Ocean can take place in the setting. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Sale on Deathtrap Lite

 Starting Friday,  Nov. 24th, 2023 my dark OSR fantasy game Deathtrap Lite will be on sale for $0.99 USD on DriveThruRPG. The sale will last until Monday the 27th.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The Power of Names

I am going to relate a personal story to make a point about the power of names, and why that can be very important in your tabletop game.

The Attack

On December 15th of last year I came home after having a vaccine booster and felt fine, aside from the sore arm. I had my lunch, and dinner, played some Dungeons & Dragons with my wife, and then went to bed. In the middle of the night I had some kind of attack. My face felt like it was made out of rubber. It wasn't drooping, I had control over it, but it had no sensation. My hands and feet felt like they were on fire at the same time tingling as if they'd had the circulation cut off.

I thought that perhaps I had been sleeping in a way that had pinched a nerve, and decided to take a wait and see approach. Honestly, it didn't strike me that it could be a stroke, and so I held off on seeking medical attention.

My face mostly returned to normal, except my lips were tingling, getting occasional stabbing pains, and feeling like they were on fire. The same was true of my hands and feet; tingling , stabbing pain, and phantom heat sensations. When I finally got to speak to a nurse-practitioner about it when it wouldn't go away, I was immediately hauled up to the hospital where they ran a handful of tests. They determined that it wasn't some kind of diabetic shock (I am not diabetic, but ruling it out was important), and it wasn't a stroke. The ER doctor assumed that it might have been a side effect of the vaccine. They told me it would be gone by Christmas, and that I should just carry on. 

The problem is, it didn't go away. In fact, it got worse. The numb areas would occasionally stab painfully, my lips would burn and tingle so badly I didn't want to talk or eat. Walking was always uncomfortable. Typing was torture. What's more, I started getting tired all the time. There have been days in the last 11 months where I can't walk two kilometers without feeling so exhausted I need to take a nap afterwards. These piled on to a couple of previously existing conditions, including the habit of every cold I get turning into pneumonia, to make me feel like the walking dead.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Storycraft vs. Chaos: Why I Minimized Prep Time

 For about 34 of my 38 years of playing Dungeons & Dragons and similar games, I have not been a fan of random tables. I was very much in the Hickman school of gaming when I was a kid, I believed that GM should be crafting a dense narrative structure, and then adjusting it whenever the players did something I didn't expect.

The idea of buying a whole book full of random tables would not have appealed to a younger me. Even well into my 30s, I was far more interested in crafting bespoke encounters and adventures that reinforced a central narrative or collection of narratives. I tried not to waste much energy on things that felt random and unconnected to the story I was crafting.

My planning method worked like this:

Friday, November 3, 2023

Game Review: Autonmnijobs: Small Jobs for Unimportant People

Beth Crane
Publisher: Battle Bird Productions
Marketplace: Gumroad
Engine: Lasers & Feelings

Beth Crane and I don't share the same taste in RPGs, but I admire the hell out of my creativity. I first came across her work while hunting for a new science fiction podcast and discovered We Fix Space Junk, and instantly fell in love with it.

WFSJ is set in a far future where humanity lost most of its digital data due to catastropic solar flares in 2088. One of the only surviving financial instutions was a predatory student loans service that kept its intrusive accounts records sealed in lead boxes in an underground facility. The company was able to allow other financial institutions to recoup some of their losses by selling their data. 

The lending company quickly became the most powerful financial institution in the galaxy. This emergent  megacorporation, now called Automnicon, finds desperate people (usually desperate because of the terrible conditions they create on space colonies in the first place) and offer them loans to for medical or travel expenses. These loans come with ludicrous interest that makes the debtee into a slave of the company. Failure to do the jobs assigned by the company leads them to shut off life support in whatever starship or space colony the recalicitrant employees are located. 

The podcast follows Kilner and Samantha an odd couple of deeply indebted repairwomen who are sent from planet to planet doing menial repair jobs in often psychotically dangerous and volatile situations by a company that couldn't care less if they live or die.

We Fix Space Junk is exactly the kind of dark comedy I love the most, and I have been binging it for days.

When I heard that Beth Crane had made an RPG based on her setting, I decided to grab a copy as much as a way to shoe my appreciate of her podcast as to try to experience the setting myself.