Friday, February 13, 2015

Story Seed - The Rings

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The rings hovered, motionless, drawing heat from the vents below. Like so many of the numenera, they seemed to defy natural law. They did not move, did not age, they ignored storm and sun. The rings even failed to cast shadows, perversely casting doubt on their very substance, and yet if one had the means one could touch them, and prove them solid and real.

The people of the region shunned them for these reasons, and so they were alone more often than not, quietly drawing heat from the earth.  That heat never seemed to change the rings, those that had touched them found them to be almost cool to the touch and possessing a texture that was difficult to describe, neither metal nor stone or synth. The heat that passes from earth to the rings is sufficient to reduce a bird to ash and cinder.

The rings seem to have an endless appetite for the warmth of the earth; what purpose could such things have?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Back Issues #18 - Planet Hell

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Not every planet in science fiction is habitable. For every lush forest planet that looks remarkably like Vancouver, there are, in reality, many more uninhabitable balls of rock. Welcome to one of those...
Issue #18: Planet Hell

That fetid yellow sphere is Io, moon of Jupiter. OK, OK, technically its not a planet, but still, it could be, especially when it comes to a space set RPG. Not that the PCs are going to want to visit without really good reason. Io is heavily volcanic, with a reported estimate of 400+ volcanoes spewing silicates and sulfur across the surface. With volcanic peaks that make Mt. Everest look like a foothill, and a thin atmosphere of sulfur dioxide this is no vacation spot.

Places like this, harsh and alien and remorselessly inhospitable to humankind, are perfect for hidden military bases (or pirate/raider bases), alien homeworlds, or the "only damn place in the universe where we can get [insert ridiculous element name here]".

Alternately the nature of the planet can pose a juxtaposition against the usefulness of its location. Space is vast and distances a great, a system with a planet like this may not be inviting for any reason other than providing a stable gravity well to stage a refueling station along a well traveled, but long and sparsely populated, trade or transportation route between two major systems.

And then there is the option of sending the players to Planet Hell against their will. An accident in space sends their ship crashing to the surface. A penal colony for the worst of the worst. Stranded by pirates/raiders and left to die. Surviving and getting off this planet becomes the challenge then, and perhaps in their quest to do so they may uncover a long dead civilization, or some other secret.

What about you all, how would you use an uninviting and inhospitable planet in a game? What ideas spring to mind when looking at it?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Actual Play Recap - Numenera Fiasco Playset - Playtest #2

Hi folks, instead of a story seed today I have an actual play recap for you. I hope you enjoy.
Last week I had +Craig Stokes  and +Scott Robinson join me in a Google Hangout to playtest my in-works Numenera Fiasco playset. The following is a brief recap of this second playtest session; to read the first go here.

Dramatis Personae:
  • Gartho - an assassin down on his luck, he uses an artifact to access the datasphere and gets a job hunting down a robot with green eyes from a data-being known as Medda
  • Philan - a rival of Gartho's with a blue head, his "brother" is a robot with green eyes, Philan once killed a target of Gartho's, he is motivated to destroy numenera that might harm his brother
  • Logan - an AI in a robot body with glowing green eyes who was "raised" with Philan, at the start of the story he is hiding out in ruins outside of Nihliesh in a chamber full of malfunctioning robots, when the facility becomes unsafe he flees and becomes target for Gartho

Act 1

Scene 1:
Gartho, down on his luck and looking for work, delves into the datasphere using an artifact. His attempts cause him to contact a data-being (god?) calling itself Medda by accident. Medda hires him for a job to retrieve a packet of data from a robot with glowing green eyes.
Scene 2:
Philan finds Logan in a chamber full of malfunctioning robots in some ruins outside of Nihliesh, and attempts to convince his “brother” he is in danger. Logan admits to gleaning many facts from the data sphere but does not know why people would be looking for him aside from knowledge of a mutagen. Unconvinced Logan refuses to leave.
Scene 3:
Later, Philan and Logan are repairing some of the robots when explosions rock the ruins. They attempt to flee and end up in the wilderness. The ruins are in shambles and the army of robots damaged or destroyed. They head to Nihliesh as their only alternative.
Scene 4:
Gartho hunts for a stun cypher in Nihliesh to help him capture the robot with glowing green eyes. While talking with a contact he spies Philan in the same market area. The broker agrees to get the device for Gartho for two purses full of shins.
Scene 5:
Philan attempts to smuggle Logan into Nihliesh, which is not friendly to AI of any kind. Unfortunately while trying to produce documentation the wrappings hiding Logan’s nature fall away and the guards try to halt them. In the confusion Logan and Philan are able to get onto the lift to the city, though not unnoticed.
Scene 6:
Immediately after Logan and Philan reach the top of the lift they flee the guards. Logan uses a cypher to knock out two guards but a third pursues them doggedly.  They duck into a safehouse where they hide successfully from his search

TILT - Mayhem - magnificent self destruction

Act 2

Scene 1:
In the safe house Logan begins to malfunction, claiming to be intruded by something in the data sphere. His eyes suddenly go red and some kind of weapon begins to power up. Philan tries to help but the hacked AI fired a beam of red energy that kills a bystander, as Philan flees.
Scene 2:
Shortly after Philan runs into Gartho in the street. The two argue about the prior contract and Philan asks Gartho if he took a contract on his brother. Gartho says no, unaware that the robot he seeks is in fact Philan's brother. Philan's attempts to call him off his job but instead makes Gartho aware that his target is in the city. Gartho pushes Philan out into the market and goes to confront the robot.
Scene 3:
Gartho connects to the data sphere seeking information about Logan's location.  He is connected to Medda who assures him that target is close and he will be handsomely rewarded.
Scene 4:
Logan corners Philan in the bowels of Nihliesh at the same time as a group of guards. The guards try to intervene but Logan, still apparently malfunctioning, kills one and attempts to kill another. Philan nobly interposes himself between Logan and the guard. Regaining some measure of control Logan begs Philan to flee, knowing that he is losing himself, and his only recourse it to self destruct. Philan refuses knowing that Logan can control himself, but as they argue it becomes clear that Logan is dead set to destroy himself. Philan is forced to leave Logan to his fate. The robot explodes, apparently destroyed.
Scene 5:
Flashback - Philan and Logan in their childhood. Philan and Logan argue about who gets to explore a ruin first. As they get angry Logan's eyes begin to flash red. Philan runs telling his brother that since only he knows where the ruins are he will be first, but logan intercepts him with a force field knocking his brother out. The red eyed Logan regains control before killing his brother with an energy weapon, and awakens his brother.
Scene 6:
Gartho finds Philan shortly after his brother's explosive demise, and demands to know where Logan is. The two argue and Gartho learns that Logan destroyed himself.  His job ruined, Gartho tries to attack Philan but finds his rival is a only a hologram, who taunts him, "I'm always two steps ahead!"


The aftermath is a series of very short scenes that show what happens to each character afterwards.
Gartho becomes obsessed with killing Philan and descends into madness as he seeks revenge.
Philan, now a broken man, wanders back to the ruins where he found Logan in the days prior to his death. 
Logan's consciousness awakens in the data sphere as a program meant to drive users insane. 
Gartho tormented by the data-being Logan has become, tries and fails repeatedly to locate and kill Philan.  
An older Philan sitting in the same ruins where he found Logan years before is tinkering with a robot.
Logan accesses a remote memory of his brother which drives him mad. The madness makes him target family relations, destroying them. 
Many years later Gartho, living in bowels of Nihliesh, has becoming horribly mutated by the chemicals found there. He still wishes he had killed Philan, but can only now live in pain and torment.
Surrounded by a small army or repaired robots, Philan activates a console in the ruins producing a familiar green glow for a moment. The glow turns to red as the robots all focus on Philan with red glowing eyes. 
Logan’s data ghost regains his memories and sanity only to be punished by the data-god Medda by having to watching his brother die repeatedly for all eternity.
Philan turns to the camera his eyes glowing red, and he begins to laugh with the voice of the data-god Medda. 
Fade To Black

I think this session went really well. The new GM Intrusion mechanic worked well enough, but I think I need to tinker with it a little more. During after-play discussion Craig suggested that I remove cyphers from the Objects table and instead simply give each character one cypher for use during play. I think this is a great suggestion and will be making a simplified cypher table (based on d6s with 36 total options) for use with this playset.

Thanks again to +Craig Stokes and +Scott Robinson  for joining me and providing good ideas and feedback both during play and after. And thanks to +Spazmo Rogue for joining us partway through and playing some NPCs. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #17 - Quattro con Carnage - Savage Worlds RPG (a look at gaming across systems)

This blog references the Quattro con Carnage experiment being run by +James Walls and specifically the fifth and sixth sessions featuring the Savage Worlds RPG segment, and my prior blog posts discussing my thoughts on Basic Fantasy RPG and Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Quattro con Carnage goes fully into the modern realm! The transition to Savage Worlds RPG was a somewhat significant shift in game mechanics. After six sessions of play the characters have really come together and started to feel very much the same despite the change in mechanics at the core. That said, how those mechanics transferred to in game experience turned out to really impact the feel of play.

First off all basic statistics change from a simple system of numbers that give bonuses to a die roll (with d20 being the "base") to a variable die mechanic.  Your stats start at d4 and get "bought up" on the dice scale to d6, d8, d10, and at the upper range d12. Given that the standard target number for a roll is 4 for most tasks this makes it possible to very much control your character's destiny in the build phase of character creation. Lommán who's high Wisdom in BFRPG and Personality in DCC ended up with a d10 Spirit, this meant that for most uses of spells and actions in his "core area of expertise" he had a 70% chance of success (actually higher because all player characters also roll a d6 "wild die" when they make any check). This didn't make him infallible (on the contrary, dice rolls once again proved the great equalizer during these two sessions), but it was a clear indication of his area of focus.

The wild die is an extra d6 that is always rolled along with the relevant skill or attribute die. The higher result of the two dice is used as the check result. Only player characters and special NPCs called wild cards get the wild die. If you are facing off with a goblin warband there might be 10 goblins and 1 goblin warlord. The regular goblins don't get a wild die, they are the peons, and stand around making the heroes look awesome. The warlord could be a wild card though, especially if he's important to the story, he'll get to add a wild die to all his rolls.

On top of all of that dice in Savage Worlds explode! No, not literally ... sheesh ... When you roll the highest result on the die it "explodes" (happy?) and you get to roll it again and add the new result to the old. Rolling a d6 you could roll a 6 and then roll again and get a 4 for a total of 10 on your check result. If the die rolls the maximum value on the 2nd roll it will explode again, and again, so long as you continue to roll the maximum you continue to roll again and add to the total value. This is pretty key, and with luck can result in some crazy successes!

This die mechanic also has a gradient effect similar to DCC's.  When players roll for a task if they hit their target number they succeed, but if they exceed it by 4 or more they gain a raise. You can gain raised multiple times for each full 4 you exceed the target number, in combat this is especially powerful as it adds to your damage.

An example of dice rolling... Bob has d8 for his attack skill and wants to smack a goblin in the face. The GM tells him what the goblin's dodge or parry (depending on if the attack is ranged or melee respectively) and that becomes the target number for Bob's roll; in this case let's say its a 5.  He picks up a d8 (for the relevant combat skill) and a d6 (the wild die) and rolls them. The d8 comes up a 7 which is a hit, but the d6 (the wild die) comes up with a 6. Bob's pretty happy because now he grabs a new d6 and rolls it to add to the first, that die comes up a 6 as well! Things are looking up, and he grabs a third d6 and rolls it getting a 4.  His total check result is a 16 which not only beats the target number of 5, but gains him two raises (one at 9+, and a second at 15+). If he'd rolled another 6 he could have tossed yet another die and possibly scored a third raise (or more). His remarkable success grants him bonus damage dice (or some other kind of bonus for non-attack rolls), as his crushing attack slaughters the poor goblin.

Maybe if Bob is lucky the Warlord won't get explosions on his attack...

Unlike DCC and BFRPG Lommán's clerical powers are now based on a pool of power points, he can use them however he wants so long as he can pay for them out of that pool of points.  During play the pool didn't impinge on my ability as the player to have Lommán use his powers so in this respect there was little difference between DCC and Savage Worlds. I can see this may not always be the case however, and in some encounters using healing and other abilities might tax his power point pool to depletion.

Class features in DCC also became Hindrances and/or Edges. Where in DCC Lommán had a Disapproval mechanic, in Savage Worlds it becomes a Vow hinderance. It can be leveraged by the GM to provide bennies to the player for role playing that hinderance. Likewise his turn dead class ability became the Holy Warrior edge, which allowed his to repel evil creatures.

Bennies are ... actually I did a whole thing on bennies here, so I won't repeat myself. Suffice to say that spending a bennie allows you to reroll. You get more for playing your hindrances. It's a straightforward economy that helps the players retain some control over events and shine when they need to.

So how did I like Savage Worlds?

These two sessions were only my 2nd and 3rd times playing Savage Worlds, so I was on relatively even footing with DCC and BFRPG in that regard. I think that the SW system is pretty interesting, and clearly geared toward quick and simple play. The addition of bennies adds an element of player control that I enjoy as well.  I had a lot of fun with Savage Worlds, but I don't know that it matched the feel of the prior two game systems. The system seems a lot more forgiving in regards to character wounds and death. It's pretty hard to kill a Savage Worlds PC by comparison to DCC and BFRPG and from that standpoint it was the most obvious departure from the OSR feel of the prior four sessions.

In the end I think Savage Worlds does a fine job for a fantasy game, but it may be a little too gentle with characters to really mimic that OSR feel where any minute you could drop dead. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Story Seed - The Spine

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"Why do the towers protect us?" the child asked looking up at the great spires that marched off into the horizon in either direction. Beams of energy exited the top of each tower, creating a shield of sorts for miles to either side all along the length of the Spine.

The child's father looked down at his daughter and mused that sometimes the wisest questions came from the most innocent of sources. "They were left there by those that came before. They do what they do because that it what they were made to do."

"Jahan said his dad told him that the towers protect us 'cause we're special, an' the Gods want to protect us." The little girl was gazing upward at her father, eyes seeming overlarge and full of wonder.

"Jahan's father is a mystic and believes many things which are not supported by facts. Does that make him wrong? I do not know, but I know that what I believe is that which I can verify with facts and evidence." He picked his child up and set her on his shoulders. Pointing with one hand he said, "You see that tower far away there? That tower does not emit the energy that the other towers do, and the field that brings our mild weather and shields us from storms ends near there."

"Is it broken?"

"Yes, I believe it is."

"Can you fix it daddy?"

He was silent for a moment. He knew that the tower was the third to have failed. That the Spine has stretched for three more towers and a thirty miles more in his father's day. "I don't know," he finally admitted, "but I hope so."