Saturday, May 7, 2016

Twin Ion Engines - An X-Wing Campaign Play Test

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Thanks to The Force Awakens I found myself easy target for the X-Wing Miniatures game. A 30% off sale at my FLGS (and comics emporium) resulted in a purchase of The Force Awakens core set and ... within a month things were pretty dire. I usually get a few games a month in with an old friend of mine, we split my available minis which is basically one of everything for Scum and Imperial (not counting the two Epic ships).

Recently we decided that random skirmishes were all good and fine, but we wanted something where victory mattered more, and resources were limited. So last night we sat down and hammered out some tentative rules for a campaign test as follows.

  • 400 points to spend building a stable of available pilots and upgrades
    • multiples of upgrades cards may be purchased, 2x limit on 0 point upgrades 
    • unique pilots are unique, but multiples of generic pilots are allowed
    • negative squad point title upgrades are limited to 1 per eligible pilot 
  • Play will be at 100 points, and limited to only those cards purchased above
    • Destroyed ships are removed permanently from that player's roster as well as the attached upgrades
    • A ship that flees the field must be played in the next match, and gains a permanent +5 point cost penalty
Pretty simple and easy we think. The forced deployment and point penalty prevent abusive retreats (like a gunboat firing its missiles and immediately fleeing. And also gives an immediate and guaranteed edge to the other player.

We drafted our forces with my having Imperials and my friend taking Scum. 

My force as follows:
  • Pilots
    • TIE/In
      • Soontir Fel
      • Royal Guard Pilot
      • Royal Guard Pilot
    • TIE Adv. Prototype
      • The Inquisitor
    • TIE Defender
      • Col. Vessery
    • Lambda Shuttle
      • Col. Jendon
    • TIE/fo
      • Omega Leader
      • Zeta Leader
      • Zeta Ace
      • Epsilon Squad Pilot
    • TIE Phantom
      • Echo
  • Upgrades
    • Titles
      • TIE/x7
      • TIE/D
      • TIE/v1
      • Royal Guard TIE (x4)
      • ST-321
    • Systems
      • Fire Control System (2x)
    • Tech
      • Comm Relay (x3)
    • Cannons
      • Heavy Laser Cannon
      • Ion Cannon
    • Crew
      • Weapons Engineer
      • Rebel Captive
      • Intelligence Agent
    • Missiles
      • Cluster Missiles 
    • Elite Pilot Talents
      • Marksmanship
      • Wired
      • Juke (x3)
      • Push the Limit (x3)
      • Veteran Instincts
      • Predator
      • Adaptability
    • Modifications
      • Stealth Device (x3)
      • Autothrusters (x2)
      • Advanced Cloaking Device
      • Twin Ion Engins Mk. II (x2)
      • Guidance Chips
  • Lost Pilots & Upgrades
    • Darth Vader
      • TIE/x1 
      • Advanced Targeting Computer
      • Adaptability
    • Valen Rudor
      • TIE/v1 
      • Autothrusters
      • Juke
Our first battle saw Vader, Valen, and Vessery face off against a Contracted Scout, Black Sun Vigo, and Kavil. Some poor piloting (and bad defense rolls) on my part lost me both Valen and Vader, but I took all three of the opposing ships in return. Vessery with the TIE/D title (proxied) paired really well with Vader. I equipped him with Marksmanship and was routinely dishing out a damage and ion token followed by 2+ damage from primary weapon fire. 

Not sure when our next game will be, but we're both looking forward to things where losses have a longer meaning than just that current game.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Second Hand Treasures - When the Sky Falls

Welcome to a new semi-regular feature. Like many local game stores, mine has a used bin where occasional treasure can be found at a discount. I don't know how often this feature will show up in the blog, but when it does I'll discuss a recent find on the cheap, why I like it, and how I plan to use it. 

When the Sky Falls caught my eye not by favor of its cover, but by benefit of its spine. Malhavoc Press and Bruce R. Cordell are right there with the title. As a Cypher System fan, Bruce's name caught my eye first, as I keep an eye out for modules just like this by Bruce and Monte. When I saw this was published by Malhavoc, Monte's old company, I knew I should take a look. That cover image certainly didn't turn me away either. I wasn't yet sure what I was looking at but it looked pretty cool.

So, what's in it? Well, as the title implies, this is a book about using meteor strikes in your games. It's an "event book" so its built not as an adventure that you can simply run, but instead as a resource for such events. It's split into eight chapters, of which three are very specifically d20 resources of spells, feats and classes. These may still be of use to more ambitious players and GMs, but certainly will require the most work. The remaining forty odd pages however provide details on how to integrate a meteor fall, creatures and items that may come from the meteor or be forged by its fall, and details on the impact events of three different types of meteors.

I'm most likely to use this within a Cypher System game (as that is my go to system at the moment) and the contents are reasonably easy to use in that respect. Difficulty classes for d20 system can easily be backward calculated to Cypher System difficulty levels. Looking at the three meteor types, mundane, thaumaturgic, and engram arks. Mundane meteors will fit into any setting, being little more than rocks falling from space and wreaking disaster and chaos.

Thaumaturgic meteors are described as "a fragment from an incredible celestial object charged with immense magic." For a fantasy setting, like Ardeyn or Gods of the Fall, this can be taken literally as some piece of fundament imbued with magic. But for a settling like Numenera this could be so much more. There are many relics of prior worlds that still litter the skies and space above the Earth and this kind of meteor could be used as one of these with the EMP and other strange "magical" effects instead being part of misunderstood radiation or other energies unleashed by the damaged or destroyed technology of some prior age.

Lastly Engram Arks are the remains of dead worlds. Again, in Numenera this will fit right in as the engrams within could be cyphers or artifacts that hold skill abilities or fractions of the datasphere, or even genuine remains of an alien world that seek to rebuild their lost home on Earth.

In addition to these base meteor types the final chapter of the book offers even more exotic options. From killer fungi, to fallen celestials, and ancient evils this chapter gives you an additional five ideas for unique meteors that can span almost any genre.

The last two chapters contain items and creatures. You get a options of items forged from meteoric remains, imbued with power from thaumaturgic meteors, and creatures either mutated by the sky fall aftereffects or that crawl forth from the fallen items themselves.

So where could I use this? Most anywhere really, but I think I am likely to use a mundane meteor when I start playing Predation as a means of both foreshadowing and a way to churn up the setting a bring forth adventures. I'd also like to try using either a thaumaturgic or engram ark in Numenera. I think both would fit well into the setting, and I'd really like to see the effects of such an impact on a major population center or significant and iconic relic location. Imagine the change that would erupt in the Steadfast if the Amber Monolith was destroyed, or if a major city like Shallamas was struck with a mutagenic thaumaturgic meteor!

For the $8 price of admission this book has given me a lot to work with and some fun ideas. It's also given me reason to look for other "event books" from Malhavoc Requiem for a God and Cry Havoc either in my stores used section or at this year's GenCon. If you want to see what When the Sky Falls contains you can grab a copy at DriveThruRPG or on Amazon. And if you want to see more Second Hand Treasures let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Nuts & Bolts #77 - Time and Again Part 6 - The (In)Finite Tree

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This feels like deja vu ... unless of course you haven't read Parts One, Two, Three, Four, or Five yet.

What was done is done, and what will be will be ...

A single timeline of events that cannot be changed means that the setting will not change no matter what the players do in the past or learn about the future. What is written is written, but what is known may not be truth. In a game such as this characters may still have a role in shaping the past, and may yet find that their role in the future is not as clear as they believed. Going back the characters may find that they have always been an integral part of the history of events. Likewise seeing the future means being bound to the events they have witnessed, but possibly not in the way that they think.

Consider 12 Monkeys (the movie moreso than the TV show, although the show is pretty great). James Cole has seen his future, but isn't aware of it, and the scientists in the future end up causing the plague instead of helping to prevent it. Causation is a funny thing, and traveling through time just makes things complicated, but doesn't actually empower you.

If you plan your time travel game to feature a fixed timeline of events that unfold no matter what is done you'll need to lay a very strong foundation and have a very good grasp on cause and effect. That's not saying it can't be done, but it's going to be a lot of work to pull it off and have things turn out as planned.

An (in)finite multiverse

Pretty much the opposite of a single immutable timeline. Essentially every decision, every random occurrence that can happen does happen, and with divergent occurrences come divergent branching timelines. This can be taken to a logical and extreme end where everything is possible and there are infinite parallel worlds each slightly different. At that point traveling backward and changing something just creates a new timeline starting from the point of the change and moving forward. The actions of the characters don't change events in the grand sense, but they do create a new universe (or merely act to allow them entrance into said universe) where things are different. At this point time traveling is just a complicated version of dimensional travel, and worse, one where the things you sought to change still exist objectively, even if you no longer have to deal with them subjectively.

This can be really fun if the game is about exploring these other timelines and multiverses and the players don't have expectations that they can actually alter history "for the better." On the other hand, if the players want to try and go all Quantum Leap and "put right what once went wrong" this kind of setup is probably going to piss them off because they can't. Sure they can keep tweaking their multiversal location to end up living in a "better" timeline, but out there, somewhere and somewhen, all of those bad things will still exist.

The bright side of all this is that these kinds of games are pretty easy to run, because you don't really need to keep track of complicated loops in the timeline, instead its all just a new branch on an every growing tree of time. The complicated part might be the heavy lifting of history and alternate history you'll need to generate.

Alternately a multiverse can be finite in size and scope. Yes, there is huge potential for variation here, but there are also finite possibilities and finite worlds. These worlds could spin off in various ways from the "prime" world. Perhaps there are certain focal point events that are major enough to cause a new branch to the timeline to account for multiple paths. Or maybe these branching points are less significant and more arbitrary; perhaps there is only a schism point every 100 years regardless of the events in the meantime, or new timelines can only spring from acts of true and pure random chance.

This will require some degree of the above bookkeeping, but the limited nature also means that players have the ability to affect real change to the various branches of the timeline, and that may make for a better game for everybody involved.

You can't go home again ...

What about a single mutable timeline? You go back, you change something, and you return "home" to find everything different. Or maybe just small things. You go to the future, witness something horrible, and then resolve to return "home" and ensure it never comes to pass, and with effort, skill, and luck you can! For the characters these stories will offer them the greatest opportunity to feel as though they are creating meaningful change. Being able to go back and change the course of World War 2 should create a massively different present, for better or ill, based on the actions they took. Likewise staving off some horrible future event should result in a outcome, but that outcome may not always be better than what was previously seen.

Personally I think this is the most interesting form of time travel. It allows the characters to "play god" and allows the GM to really twist and alter the setting accordingly. It is a lot of work however, as each change means rewriting some portion of the setting's "history". Changes need not be good however, and even the most careful change can spin out of control due to the butterfly effect. You can engineer a situation where the PCs need to return and undo the changes they made, or possibly even become their own opposition in the past. 

Null Time

What about null time? Null time regions are usually outside of the normal space-time and exist in perfect stability regardless of what happens to the timeline(s). These spaces make good bases of operations for characters and groups dealing with time travel. It ensures that they won't accidentally erase their home during an excursion, and often provides proximal access to all parts of time with equal ease (instead of having shorter time jumps be easier than longer jump, or some such). The other great thing about null time regions is that they are paradox free, which means characters can meet themselves and all kinds of wackiness can occur within.


These are of course the most general concepts. There are likely continuums where there is a "strong prime" that resists change and many offshoots and loops that were strong enough to form "spurs" but not strong enough to force a change to the primary timeline. These "spurs" may eventually loop back to the prime to simply dissolve as they diverge and become increasingly more unlikely to have ever occurred. Or perhaps a setting where a limited multiverse is the result of a paradox "breaking the timeline" and the characters need to fix things so that the timelines will merge and prevent some kind of catastrophe.


I'm considering a home-brew setting (blog-brew?) time travel based setting using fragments of timelines that remain static alongside a mutable timeline. It's still in the brainstorming phase, but with time and effort it may well come together and make appearances here on the blog.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Story Seed - Corruption

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"You hear that? That's water, there must be a river nearby!" Cait dashed off through the brush toward the noise. "Come on!"

Helad sighed and shook his head. "Wait," he called lamely after her, knowing full well it would fall of deaf ears. He marked a nearby tree with a narrow strip of red cloth so he could find the narrow path if need be, and headed off after Cait.

"I think its a waterfall!" Cait's voice trickled back to Helad as he picked his was along the path of broken branches and disrupted underbrush she had left for him. "Oh, its ... holy shit! Helad, something's very wrong here!" 

"Here we go again," Helad murmured as he picked up speed, pushing through the brush until he popped out into the clear banks of a river-way. What he saw made him skid to a halt. The river was reddish brown, the color dried blood. There was indeed a fall, and it too was tainted an unnatural color. "What ... what could cause this?"

Cait pointed to the opposite shore, "Look there." There was something crawling from the red water, it's hide looked like a mass of raw blisters with only sparse tufts of lank hairs. There was corruption at work, one limb had too many joints, another seems entirely boneless like a tentacle. Spines or teeth jutted at strange angles from the creature's mouth, and it moved as if in pain. 

An arrow flashed out and slew the mutant. "Looks like Jellard village is going to have to wait, somebody has to track this to its source and stop it."

Cait drew her short sword, "Right, I didn't need a bath or a night sleep in a bed anyway."