Friday, May 30, 2014

The Hits Just Keep on Coming

Risus leads the pack in abstract and wonderful combat rules. Any situation can be considered combat. You get to say what happens to your defeated opponent. Of course beheading a person you just beat at checkers is still considered low class. In Risus combat can take a social or intellectual form. You can blow everyone away when you and your entourage make an entrance at the club or win a reasoned debate. What about losing?

After all a person who loses a physical conflict is likely to have some injuries that will take time to heal. Why should characters who go for social and intellectual aspects get away light? In most games a person who creates the smart or charismatic character expects someone else to do the major share of the fighting.

My modest suggestion is losing a debate, say will have repercussions. Not only do you lose but your line of reasoning is discredited. This is not to say you're wrong. Anyone can roll all ones. But other people will doubt your reasoning. This is a great story hook. How many mad scientists got their start when those fools laughed them out of University? It can lead to reduced employment options ('No one will work with me. They think I'm mad!') Others who shared your theories may even find themselves unpopular and pass that ill will onto you. Being locked up as a lunatic is another option. A person might find his intellect based cliches are given higher task numbers than normal due to self-doubt until he wins a debate.

Loss of social stye combat can be worrisome. You may have to operate at a lower social standing than normal. Your one time friends and allies may be more reluctant to help out. That trendy club you like might not admit you (which is annoying when your contact is inside.) More troubling, you fashion model character could discover he no longer sets fashion but must return to following it (check out the film Zoolander for a hilarious treatment of social combat between models called a 'runway-off.')

Classic Traveller doesn't really have a mechanic for social or intellectual combat. A basic rule could be to throw 8+ to hit DM +1 the relevant stat being 9+ and any skills that might be appropriate. Carousing, Admin and Liaison for social combat seem to work. Intellect based combat would use the technical skill relevant to the debate. Successful hits reduce the opponent's Intelligence, Education or Social Standing by 1d6 (or 2d6 in an intense situation.) Having one characteristic reduced to zero means you lost the combat and shut up or leave at the very least. Having two characteristics reduced to zero means you shut up or leave at the winner's discretion. Having all three reduced to zero means you will comply with a simple request and then leave. You regain these stats after one hour if one characteristic was zeroed, in a day if two were zeroed and in three days if all three were zeroed. Until they are regained the characteristics are at a value halfway between the normal and wounded value. Optionally winning such a contest or some other affirming activity like an intervention or pub crawl can restore you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Playing the Hits

Along with birth and death injury is unavoidable for characters in most RPGs. Unless you play Paranoia in which case you play, die and bring out another clone. Characters are going to get hurt. For the purposes of this article we're dealing with bodily hurt. Though the affects of social and intellectual wounding could make for an interesting future post.

Classic Traveller had a simple take on wounding. Minor injuries could be healed with three days of rest and a first aid kit. Serious injuries took a hospital or sickbay to fix, otherwise you were basically crippled pending proper care. Beyond serious wounding you were dead.

Now Risus lets you specify what happens to a defeated foe. Maybe you shoot the gun out of their hand, maybe you shoot their hand, maybe you plug them between the eyes. We dealt with being dead already. Now let's deal with healing.

Many heroes have heightened healing, whether it be the conventions of the genre or some mutant/genetically engineered/nanotech gimmick. They don't necessarily have to go to a hospital but consider, regeneration won't help you with everything that can go wrong. For starters getting your head knocked off will probably have you reaching for a new character sheet. Likewise grow your own bandages won't help you with drowning unless you get resuscitated. Getting a limb dislocated is also not going to benefit from regeneration. Also foreign objects in a body may be problematic after the skin closes. You didn't remove the bullet before the hole healed? How do we remove it? Surgery? Better be quick.

What about more conventional healing processes? Back alley clinics (cyber or any other flavor) are a staple of some SF settings. Sure you can buy a cyber arm there cheap but what was it used for before you got it? Maybe the hidden pistol in it was used in a crime and the cops have some bullets from it in forensics. Maybe the chips you buy are special prototypes that were not recognized but the mega corp that designed them had bounty hunters on their trail. Maybe the chips are wanted for all manner of sensitive information they contain. If you buy a chip that lets you compute orbital trajectories and get a chip with all manner of secret FTL routes then odds are someone is after you (especially if FTL is unknown.)

In a horrific vein we have organ transplants. What happens in your world when a kind man gets the heart of a killer? The hands of a strangler? The eyes of a god? The opportunities are endless.

In the fantasy genre we have clerics handling the healing and being regarded as hit points in a can. What if your deity doesn't want you healing non-believers? What if he wants favors in exchange? You don't want to know what that demon wants in exchange for patching you up. John Constantine had a whole story arc on this in Hellblazer. What if accepting healing from a deity slowly brought you around to their way of thinking?

A final thought tying some of this together an experimental  treatment facility is a great group origin for characters. It doesn't have to be SF or even modern. Mages and clerics do have to come up with new spells somehow and practice casting them. They might not like word of their mistakes getting out. Their mistakes might be your new adventure group.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Islands of the Icy Shores: Inner Worlds

When humanity developed gravitic technology in the later half of the 21st century they suddenly had easy access to the Solar System. Being human that wasn't enough for them. They used breakthroughs in suspended animation to create the Low Berth and sent sleeper ships to Barnard's Star and the Centauri system.

A ship could have as little as 20% fuel to make a one way trip. The fuel would allow a 32 week boost and deceleration at 1 gee using 16% of the fuel. The trip to the Centauri system was made at .6 c and took 7 years, 2 months. For most of this time (372 weeks) the ship's systems would be powered down and 1% fuel mass would last about 100 times normal or 400 weeks. Note artificial gravity, heating, and such were shut down. Most ships carried double this amount, at least initially to let them return if necessary.

Prometheus A785669-9 
Alpha Centauri A had a habitable garden world with a dense atmosphere and shallow seas. Colonization began when no evidence of intelligent life was found. Colonization was far from easy. The native life was extremely aggressive and almost impossible for humans to digest. Fortunately the opposite was true. In fact the toxins and chemical weapons the local flora and fauna evolved were rarely dangerous to humans and were even useful in the manufacture of drugs. 

The colonists had several decades of little contact with Earth and they liked it that way developing a libertarian sort of society with a decentralized government. Then the jump drive brought Earth practically to their doorstep. The colonists were suddenly faced with a mother world that was hungry for their bio resources. After several riots broke out over the waves of new immigrants pouring in Earth ousted the colonial government and installed a military governor. Many colonists continue the oppose this government from the wilds. The resistance is young and lacks real organization and is waiting for a leader to step forward.

Many of the STL ship crews never settled down on Prometheus, instead building outposts on the uninhabitable worlds or building stations all the way out into the Oort Cloud. These outposts are remote and scattered enough for it to be a pain for Earth to police constantly. Many colonials resisting the Earth government base themselves here. Catching the flare of a ship jumping is not a sure thing at fractions of a light year. finding their bases means jumping among hundreds of dwarf planets. Sometimes a sensor will produce evidence of a base but the patrol ship will arrive to find the pirates or rebels vacated it weeks or months before.

Barnard's B200519-8
Barnard's World is an icy moon of Barnard's Giant. Barnard's Farther Giant has several moons but no permanent colonies as yet. The moon has large subsurface ice deposits making colonization easier. Its inhabitants are mostly employed by StarGen, a company researching stellar phenomena such as flares and variable luminosity. Most people simply refer to it as the Company.

Stargen operates several research stations at other moons. BGG has relatively safe and low power radiation belts for a gas giant. This can change fast when the star has a flare. Monitor stations keep a close watch. A flare can mean several hours of people retreating to 'storm cellars' protected bunkers till the period of high radiation has passed. Most local ships have similar shelters.

The company had very strict rules in place for their workers from the start. As a result when Company FTL ships arrived very little changed. Immigration is tightly controlled and non-company visitors are restricted to the starport. A number of people immigrated from Prometheus with the Earth take over (some via STL ships) and as a result the port has a very libertine atmosphere. The Company turns a blind eye to most of the goings on there. Company security patrol access to the starport but don't enter it. Corporate employees who enter it are warned they're on their own. 

Besides research water mining and tunnel engineering are major occupations. The planet also has a small but growing tourist trade due to the rough pleasures of its starport and incredible views of its gas giant.

Recent discoveries point to the planet having several shells of alternating ice and water. Initial research shows some of these layers may have biochemical or even life. This has raised concerns regarding quarantine procedures and possible infection.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hurts Less, More Missing!

The time was when armor kept your character from getting hit in combat. D&D did it that way. Classic Traveller did it that way and we were happy.

Then The Fantasy Trip came out and lo! Armor absorbed damage from an attack. It no longer kept you from being hit. No more attack matrices and charts and such items dear to grognards everywhere. Many left and never looked back. They derided armor class/to hit people. This way made sense. Hitting a person was a matter of skill. Damage was a measure of the force that actually was transmitted to the victim. Even Traveller went with this. The Azhanti High Lightning and Striker games used a damage reduction system.  Ditto 2300 AD when it came along. Realism!

Except it had its problems too. For example, a dagger really had no chance of piercing plate armor. Nevertheless many systems allowed a dagger to do a point or two on a good enough damage roll. Some didn't. But then that meant a sword and other weapons needed more damage dice or whatever. This could get really silly for modern weapons. In order to have low end bulletproof cloth stand up to pistols doing say 2d6 you needed armor that absorbed at least 10 or 11 damage. Now rifles can shred armor that can laugh at pistol rounds. That meant rifles had to do at least 4d6 to put a hurt on people. That's fine for dealing with armored folks but when you turned the weapons on unarmored folks you might all but disintegrate them (assuming 10 or 12 hit points. GURPS I'm looking at you.) A damage of 4d6 pretty much rolled 14 most of the time. If your PC's damage averaged 12 you were flat out of luck should you get hit. What, a rifle bullet never grazed someone or just took off an ear?

Then some bright designer got the idea of redefining hits in more detail. Roll a hit location to see where you hit. Some amor only protected the torso for example. Hit a guy in the arm and he was going bowling that session. Some armors had protection that varied by area. Lots of cruchy goodness there.

So in effect armor now could prevent all damage to certain areas. Hit a guy in the right spot and even a dagger could harm a man in plate armor.

Which sounds a lot like armor reducing your chance to hit once again. Also armor class tables were clunky but hit location was a real bitch in the opinion of many (or my opinion at least.) So which mechanic should you use given the choice, damage reduction or higher to hit numbers.

Depends. Armor class puts an emphasis on skill. A skilled person could shank a giant with toenail clippers. Damage is unrelated to penetration of armor and even unarmored people may survive a few hits. It's a good set up for cinematic play styles.

Damage reduction spawns gear heads. You're always looking for the best personal protection but then an npc comes with a bigger gun than yours. It can lead to an arms race. Skill doesn't matter as much because even if you can shoot the ace out of a deck of card you won't put a hole in that exo-armor suit with that body pistol.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to re-read Classic Traveller.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Sham

Where you have super beings you will have super shams. It's a fact that most super beings are very outgoing about their powers and abilities. They'll tell you they're vulnerable to wood or yellow or mayonnaise or that they can withstand the explosive force of a hundred pounds of dynamite. This is one of their tropes: convenient exposition. It makes it easy for new readers to catch on but it is unnecessary and pretty foolish. Eventually some wise guy is going to trick you into a yellow, wooden room with two hundred pounds of dynamite in a mayo factory.

Far better to let everyone think you're an ordinary guy who happens to wear a costume and fight crime.

The Sham (Risus)
Phony Vigilante (4) (Making mysterious entrances and exits, not revealing your powers, acting like that right hook hurt)
D-List Super (4) (Bulletproof, bending low grade steel over your knee, leaping that borders on flight, heightened senses)
Detective (2)
Questing Dice [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] [ ] (Keeping his powers a secret
Lucky Shots [ ] [ ] [ ]
Background: The Sham has a decent set of powers. He can pick up a car, hurdle a tall building and it takes a hand grenade to even phase him. He adopted the guise of a masked vigilante and passes his powers off as martial arts, acrobatics, and other forms of athletics. He's a vigilante who escaped death traps many times (without witnesses to see him bend bars or walk through sheets of flame.) He claims to wear a bulletproof vest but that's just for show, as is the barely functioning line launcher he's always fooling with.

Hook: No one must know his secret!

Note that many characters in other genres/settings are shams for various reasons. Psionics in Traveller face prejudice on many worlds and hide their powers. In Lord of the Rings Gandalf was a bit of a sham. He never used his full powers to avoid attracting the attention of Sauron's minions. The original X-Men hid their mutant powers when they formed a new team X-Force, making it seem they used exotic equipment. They avoided anti-mutant prejudice while they sold their services to remove mutants causing trouble (saving quite a few of their fellows for cash.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Green Kerbal

Two of my current hobbies are Kerbal Space Program and Superhero MUSHes (a MUSH is basically a chat based rpg.) While I'm working on The Icy Shore out in the shed I want to share my idea for an orginal DC Character: the Green Lantern of Kerbin!

Kerbals are physically and mentally unremarkable beings except for two abilities: they have courage bordering on stupidity in most cases, and when food, water, or air is scarce they can will themselves into a hibernation state. This makes them excellent astronauts.

The Kerbals inhabit Kermin, a small Earth like world circling a yellow sun in Sector 2525. Little is known of their government or society apart from a massive space program they have created to explore their star system. The Kerbals have a level of technology roughly equivalent to modern Earth. Space travel is still quite difficult and risky. In fact their entire astronaut corps consists clones of their best and brightest.

Dostiyin Kerman is a Kerbal of the planet Kerbin. He stands about four feet tall. He has an oversized roughly rectangular head, light green skin and expressive, dark eyes. His Green Lantern Corps uniform is a Kerbal Space Program spacesuit with the characteristic green color scheme.

Dostiyin was an astronaut corp cadet who volunteered to test a new rocket. The launch went perfectly but the upper stages separated from his command module. Dostiyin was going to go into hibernation and wait a few months or years for a rescue. Meanwhile out in space the Green Lantern of Sector 2525 was mortally injured defending a space whale from star vampires (or Space Notzis, the details are unclear.) His ring immediately headed for the nearest planet, Kerbin! Unfortunately darned near any Kerbin would do as a Lantern (the rings do not always take mental faculties into account but an app for that is coming soon.)

Being idiotically brave like most Kerbin Dostiyin rose above the ranks by being in orbit and a few hundred kilometers closer. The ring chose him and he was almost completely befuddled. He graduated basic training on Oa (barely proficient but the boy was persistent and a team player.) He returned to Kerbin and began assisting his friends in the space program by bringing devices and specs from all over his sector. Sadly all the devices seemed to do the same thing: turn into a gaping hole in the ground when smacked too hard. The space program sonn put him to work lifting cargos into orbit.

Dostiyin tired of being an SSTO. After a few months he began helping out around his sector. He was especially fond of creating a Kerbin rocket around him with his ring and flying about in violation of the laws of physics. After learning of Hal Jordan's career as a pilot and the human space programs he requested a cultural exchange mission to Earth.

One of the problems Dostiyin encountered as a Green Lantern is that his ring does not translate what he says directly instead quoting him, for example: "Greetings from the ringbearer. Ringbearer asks how you are this evening?" he doesn't seem aware of this.

Like all his race he has an affinity for 'k's in a word and large explosions. He will often create malfunctioning rockets to assault enemies or hide in a command module from attacks.

Carrying: power ring and space suit.

Hooks: The Sinestro Corp has stolen a clone of Dostiyin and outfitted it with a yellow power ring to besmirch his reputation and kill him.

Dostiyin Kerman
Green Lantern of Kerbin (4)
Somewhat sane astronaut corps cadet (3)
Explosives made simple(2)
Knowledge of the Galaxy (1)
Lucky Shots [ ]  [ ]  [ ]
Shield Mate: Power Ring (3) Dostiyin's power ring has more personality than most. It also frequently aids his combat roll using the Team-Up  rules. This may just be evidence of a split (possibly smarter) personality.

Dostiyin's Oath (translated by the ring.)
In black of space 
In skies of blue
I’ll find the Evil
And blast it too!

Those who strap on 
Evil’s boosters; 
You'll blow up
That much sooner!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Icy Shores and Sunless Seas

I was spending entirely too much time pondering my TL 9 Traveller set up. I researched a bit of the First Interstellar War for inspiration and found it a little vague on some points.

TL 9 gives you Jump 1. Even if you want to be a stickler and say Alpha Centauri, the nearest star, is outside the drive's range standard drive can simply do the trip in two jumps each way. Except the Terran ships couldn't. They used the drive only for in system trips and I guess to the Oort Cloud. There they discovered a rogue planet a light year out they could use for wilderness refueling to get to Alpha Centauri and Barnard's Star. Mention was made that the drives were fuel guzzlers. Maybe instead of .1 M * Jn they used .3 or .4 M * Jn but you could still get around this with tankers and setting up a refueling station. I'm going with the drives needing a large mass at both ends of the jump for it to work, say Pluto size or bigger. Bigger masses work better as you can fix their positions better. Don't forget you have more than four dimensions to plot a curse in. At least 6 and maybe 36.

I did a preliminary map and switched the scale from 1 parsec per hex to one light year. Then I stuck a couple of rogue planets (or planetars.) Many stars are only accessible using rogue planets as waystations, both due the jump drive range and the higher fuel requirements. I'm going to say that locating and fixing rogue planets over light years. Some companies and governments still send out STL ships to chart them. Some people leave for star systems not yet open to jump travel to be away from Earth's government and start anew. new and safer routes to star systems are precious information and worth your life.

The asteroid fields around the larger stars represent their Oort Clouds. Sometimes you can latch onto a dwarf planet there but that is not common knowledge. The white sunbursts are brown dwarfs. The ringed planet is a super jupiter and the white dot a dwarf planet. I'm probably going to work up a table to roll for each hex. Next some ships for the setting.

Friday, May 16, 2014

More Icy Shores

I started this blog a while ago and chose its title based on the fact that I felt my rpg days were in a twilight period. It's more like a Long Night by now as I've really not indulged in Tabletop gaming in almost a year. Plus I was depressed about a variety of things and when I'm depressed, I'm a jerk.

I was reflecting on changing the title recently since instead of a Long Night things are starting to feel like 7:00 am. But I'm keeping it because 1) Changing it might be a big hairy deal 2) I may lose readers for the Internet godz are quick to take offense and 3) it still fits in a different way.

If you're like most of us you have a job you toil at unappreciated. You get home, make some dinner, deal with chores and by twilight, you're free and ready to work on GM stuff. So Twilight is really like Frank Herbert's 'hour of the assassin' for us. It's when much of our work gets done and our plots hatched.

The Icy Shore
Recap: Humans have spread to several close stars using M-drives and low berths initially. Along the way they colonized several rogue planets between star systems. After several decades of isolation the jump drive was created and Earth moved out into the void to bring its errant colonies to heel. The overall tech level is TL 9. Earth has some personal equipment (ACRs, reflec) that are TL 10. The sleeper ships and colonies they founded are TL 8. The Fringe Worlds: rogue planets, brown dwarf systems and other debris are mostly TL 9 as they are frequent stops for FTL ships from Earth. Earth needs the Fringe Worlds because no ship can make more than a single parsec jump.

Some of the more interesting objects between Sol and its closer neighbors are:

Mini Black Holes: several of these objects have been found and have research stations. They have an unpredictable effect on jump drives and trips to them are often by STL and low berth for safety reasons.

Rogue Planets: sometimes a planet is ejected as its solar system is formed or forms alone in deep space. About 5% of these have a moon. Tidal forces and geothermal heating is enough to maintain an Earth like temperature. Thermal vents in their seas allow life to generate. Such a planet can remain warm enough for life for billions of years. A few planets have been found and colonized. Most have high gravity and an atmosphere poor in oxygen but rich in hydrogen and helium. These become important way stops. A few have breathable atmospheres or have been terraformed partly by introducing hydrogen fixing organisms.

Comets, Asteroids, and Ice-teroids: A comet or asteroid may be infinitesimal compared to a planet but it still can hold enough hydrocarbons, ice and minerals to support a community of thousands for decades. Some communities never settle for long on one such body. They just continue moving deeper and deeper into space.

Ghost Ships: not all the sleeper ships made it to their destinations. legends of lost ships and sighting of derelicts persist to this day though any still traveling at their cruising speed would be several light years away by now. Jump drives are still relatively new and some FTL ships also turn up missing every year.

Wormholes: no confirmed reports of wormholes. Some ships have arrived very early or late to their destination but these have been attributed to faulty navigation or outright hoaxes.

Strange Matter: some strange matter objects have been encountered. The material is sought after for energy generation.

Solar System
The Solar System was settled initially by reaction drive ships. As a result we still have an infrastructure to support launches and orbital transfers. Earth has a space elevator in Africa and several bolas in the Belt.

Mercury has large colonies at the North and South Poles under the surface. Solar energy stations provide all their energy needs. At one time MW emitters in orbit even supplied beamed power to space stations and ships. The introduction of large scale commercial fusion reactors hurt the Mercurian economy but not everyone can afford a fusion generator so some beaming stations remain in business.

Venus was  only colonized after gravity control was discovered. Gravity thrusters and air pressure keep large semi outposts and habitats afloat in the upper atmosphere where temperature and pressure is similar to Earth's. There is stalk about enclosing the entire planet in a shell of Kevlar that outposts would sink into. Air pressure would keep the shell rigid and afloat.

Mars was once considered a likely candidate for terraforming. That was put on hold with the discovery of native life. Martian microbes are undergoing intensive study. Their similarities to Earth life raise all kinds of questions about life hopping from world to world. Earlier colonization attempts were stymied by a lack of water and the low efficiency of solar panels on Mars. Fusion plants are now supplying power. Grav fields  provide enclosed pressurized areas at low cost and flyers allow polar water to be transported easily.

Gallium was an unexpected bounty on Mars. The liquid metal mixed with sodium and potassium formed pools on the surface and were suspected to exist in the early 21st century. Commercial interests are pressuring the U.N. to exploit these deposits but so far the conservation effort is winning out.

Ceres is also known as the Inverted World. Miners are digging out its inside leaving an outer shell to hold in air and create an Earth-like environment. This shell is rigid; steel supports a filler of rock and dirt. Cereans have adopted to an Earth environment with a gravity of 1.5% of Earth. Some districts are installing gravity generators to gradually raise the gravity to Earth normal and acclimate the Cereans the gravity of other larger planets.

More soon. I'm going to continue to move into the outer worlds and the outer reaches.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Icy Shores

Why does Classic Traveller have to be adventure in the far future? Most of the weapons in the LBB set are items you can find in any National Guard Armory (except the laser weapons.)

The Icy Shores
Humanity has achieved a maximum tech level of 10. Gravity control was developed in the mid 21st century. This led to gravity confined fusion and eventually jump drives. The first wave of sleeper ships set out for the nearer stars in the 2070's. They had reached their destinations and reported back by 2100 in many cases and a second waves of colony ships set out in the first decades of the 22nd century.

Some of the ships headed for Alpha Centauri and Barnard's Star didn't make it. radiation, drive failure, insanity inflicted losses. Many ships stopped at rogue planets or asteroids .3 to .5 parsecs from Sol. Some ships set out to reach these very planetoids and brown dwarfs and build their own colonies on the Fringe of human society.

In the middle of the 22nd century the jump drive was developed by a researcher on Titan Station. The jump drive was a game changer. The drive was soon sold to Earth and Earth moved out into the Oort Cloud and to the fringes. The drive had a maximum range of one parsec and there were no stars that close. The Fringe Worlds were a convenient stop on the way to the closer stars and Earth wanted to control them for security and economic reasons.

Earth likewise tried to consolidate the colonies into an Earth dominated federation. The colonists were outright hostile to the idea and in some places riots or rebellion began. Pirates and mercenaries of every stripe congregated in the Fringe Worlds to run guns t colonial rebels or find mercenary work with either side. Some Earth factions were for isolation or at least letting the colonies remain independent. The Fringe Worlds just tried desperately to maintain their neutrality and independence in a deteriorating situation.

The weapons and a lot of the equipment in this setting are going to be familiar to players. Earth is reaching TL 10 in some areas. The Fringe Worlds are TL 9. Some colonies are TL 9 at their major settlements and TL 8 or lower elsewhere.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Every D.A.N.G. Sci Fi Cliche You'll Ever Need:

In reviewing the Only Sci Fi Starchart You'll Ever Need and my posts on the subject I realize I omitted the Diverse Alliance of Nice Guys (DANG. for short.) Yes, I left the DANG character cliches out, the DANG ship cliches out, the DANG Planet cliches out. I left all the DANG information out.

(For my friends who don't speak English as their first language let me point out 'dang' is an exclamation of dismay or anger, like 'ach', 'oi', 'sacre' or 'rowr' if you are a catgirl.)

Character Cliches
Space Patrol Crewman (Scanning for pirates or unusual phenomena, piloting a patrol ship, space combat, finding loopholes in non-interference directives, arguing that democracy is the best governmental system for the galaxy, and respecting other cultures)

Space Police Officer (Finding clues, shooting it out with outlaws, figuring out how new crimes are committed, and finding out how the monster works without dying)

Licensed Telepath (Reading minds, anticipating immediate events, reading a person's emotions, and shielding yourself and friends from adverse mental attacks)

Bumpy Head Alien (Practicing unusual art forms, meditating in odd places, surviving something that would kill a human because you aren't one, debating sociology, peaceful contact procedures, and bizarre science or medical experiments)

Free Trader (Smelling a profit a parsec away, jury-rigging your hobo transport, haggling with weird aliens, and talking your way out of trouble)

Places and Things
Space Police HQ (Database on criminal activity, scanning the galaxy for possible trouble spots, receiving distress calls, escape proof prison, and finding an old friend from academy days)

Space Patrol Scout (5) (see Every Starship You'll Ever Need 4/12/14)
Primary= O/D, Secondary= Sci, and Tertiary= Econ. Note the Space Patrol Scout is not designed to take on major warships but chase smugglers. It fights fighters normally and its weapons are ineffective (halved) vs. warships. In times of trouble these ships carry up to 5 torpedoes that are treated as Questing Dice (Space Warfare) that raise their attack from 2 dice to 3 dice. The science mission refers to sensors mainly. Lab research would be assigned higher TNs. The ship typically carries 10-20 passengers and crew. It has a brig for up to 5 people rated at (5) due to force field doors. this ship often has hooks in the form of a reputation (lucky, unlucky, always assigned the tough jobs etc.)

Hobo Transport
Primary= Econ., Secondary= O/D, and Tertiary= Sci. This ship has 5 Questing Dice to use in making a profit. They often have Hooks in the form of break downs and odd mechanical features.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Infernal Devices

Many games have attacks with continuing effects. The most popular example is probably fire. Hit a target with enough flames and it catches fire itself and burns merrily. There are other examples of course: poison, acid, smear campaign, a magical curse and drowning to name just a few. How do you represent this?

First of all combat in Risus does not necessarily mean being shot up or stabbed. It can be a matter of losing position or will to fight or just being placed in a spot where you have to surrender or die. So some of these effects are more appropriate for lethal combat. Again, there are no hard and fast rules in Risus. Setting a mage's robes on fire will certainly crimp his spell casting.  So here are some thoughts on how to model continued damage.

Poison weapons: poison can be a bonus to your die roll or an extra die. You could also give an assassin type character a double pump cliche like Poison Master [3]. He's capable of a brutal attack or two them must reload his potions and venom up his blade. If any characters want to use his wares without the appropriate cliche then remember that accidents happen. Another way to model poison could be a single exploding die added to your attacks for special gear. You have a certain number of doses of poison and then that is used up buy another bottle.

Longer lasting poisons could have a cliche themselves Lethal Blade Venom (3) that keeps attacking your character in a fight as he faces more mortal opponents. Less lethal poisons might only count sixes rolled and in effect be part of a team (working on the inside.)

In keeping with Risus I'm not going to give elaborate damage tables for different attacks. Most continuing attacks will take one of the forms given for poison.

In social combat smear campaigns or a scandal might give continuing damage that hampers a character's negotiations or court case. A magical curse might take the form of a cliche the character must combat; a vampire sets his Iron Will (4) against his Unholy Nature (Burning in daylight, being repelled by holy symbols, bloodthirsty) (5) to avoid draining his love and then later must fight his enemies in sunlight where the Unholy Nature becomes a member of the Vampire Hunter team. As he fights his foes, he burns. At high noon the Unholy Nature might be a second separate attacker.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Everybody dreams. Some dreams are the stuff of legend (or vice versa.) Everyone has to dream. It's your brain attempting to organize the events of the day and say high to your subconscious. In some settings dreams may be prophetic. They may be the medium for spirits to mortal men. By their very nature they have a certain ambiguity. Was it your deceased business partner speaking to you from beyond the grave or a fragment of underdone potato you had for dinner?

Dreams are ideal for providing nudges to player characters while leaving some ambiguity to the world. Are the gods who speak in dreams real? Some dreams do change the world: Mary Shelley got the idea for Frankenstein from a dream. James Cameron was inspired to write Terminator by a dream. Elias Howe figured out how to construct the sewing machine from his dream and Frederick August Kekule discovered the chemical structure of benzene when he had a dream of a group of snakes swallowing their tails.

So dreams could be a way for the GM to introduce new and novel discoveries. Maybe bizarre steampunk inventions are designed in a dream state and constructed when the inventor awakes, without their control. Likewise spells for a spell book could come to you in dreams. Maybe you got those six detect spells in a row for a reason, when you were itching for fireball?

The ambiguity of dreams also works for certain beings. Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones communicate to humans through their dreams, but no one is going to take a loony babbling about a vast, shambling horror seriously. If you need a warning for a dire threat but don't want anything the forensic boys can analyze for Cthulhoid slime a dream is the way to go. Perhaps there is a sinister purpose behind that dream you had of an immense and wonderful mechanical marvel.?

Besides sending dreams some beings might be able to attack dreamers through them. A dreamer might defend himself using his skills and attributes normally or might have a cliche or skill to represent 'Dream Savvy' for foghting or shaping his dream world. Several movies have dealt with combat and adventures in the Dream World.

Is there a Dream World? A GM has to ask himself that. Do people's spirits go into this world? Can they be transported there physically? Do creatures and places encountered in a dream have an existence separate from the dreamer? Finally, can you go from one dream to another?

Dream related powers or spells are extraordinarily powerful. No matter how powerful or well guarded a person is, they must sleep sometime. You may be able to move mountains in the waking world or lead armies but we are all equal and equally vulnerable when we sleep.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Success At Failure

I was just observed by my boss and my efficiency report inspired this post: failure.

Every character fails sometimes. GMs tend to dwell on improbable successes. We all know if the character dies on say 01-99 and becomes emperor of all on a 00 there's about a 50/50 chance of their being a coronation of all ceremony.

But characters do fail. Sometimes it's as simple as taking a swing and missing. Other times are more involved, like the cyberjock who HAS to avoid the Black Ice security programs and shut down the evil corporation before the security alarms go off and the goon squads arrive.

Usually we don't care how much a swing misses in a fight. This is due to pacing (fights are supposed to go fast, unless you're playing Hero System or Space Opera), and character investment: i.e. it was one lousy die roll. On the other hand if the character with the lousy luck spent the whole game session sneaking through the Castle of Doom to creep behind a tapestry depicting human rights violations and devil worship to slay the Evil Overlord and misses ... then you bet that character is going to want to know what went wrong ('I mean I hit on 01-99! WTF?!')

First realize that players will argue about failure for two reasons: they want the GM to change the ruling and they don't want to get blamed. Yes it's stupid to blame your friend for blowing a die roll. They are supposed to be random?

The GM can always change a ruling. But then it'd be a success and the main idea is failure so how do you ease the player into losing out? In the first place give them an out. Many unforeseen circumstances could cause a failure. If a die roll has any negative modifiers due to circumstances odds are the failure was out of their control. They slipped on something or some dust got in their eyes. The prosecutor's chief witness might get whacked or otherwise be unable to testify or have their veracity questioned. The doctor could have been looking at mislabeled X-rays backwards and removed the wrong kidney (it gave my doctor a few bad moments and that was just to go after a stone.) Perhaps your computer starts an automated virus scan during a starship battle, slowing down your target tracking.

Sometimes you can shift the blame to another character or even better, an NPC (it's better because very few gamers get a ride home from an NPC.) Maybe a waiter spills soup on you during your delicate negotiations and everyone thinks, "Schlemiel!" If you don't have a convenient whipping person you can also blame it on faulty equipment. You don't have to assume the characters are maintaining gear properly if they don't tell you several times per session or something similar.

Failures can also lead to unexpected successes. I was playing a Kerbal Space Program, a space flight simulator, when I simulated screwing up an orbital transfer. My rocket shot out towards the Mun (Moon). It looped around the Mun and collected a lot of data before returning safely to orbit and landing. Columbus, as another example, could be regarded as a character who flubbed his navigation roll. Have a navigation failure send your character's ship somewhere interesting. have their attempt to download files on Imperial spies fail but because another group is trying to download the same files. The other group comes forward afterward to collaborate on a resistance. As a final example have the character trying to build a fire that fails discover the rocks he's using are two pieces of unobtainium (somewhat explosive unobtainium of course.)

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Size of the Fight In the Dog

Real life story.

The wife and I have two immensely willful Yorkies. It doesn't help that they are muscular and oversize (16 and 20 lbs. each.) For foo foo dogs they are badasses. Trust me. The younger, larger dog is very anti-social by nature and moreso after being traumatized by Hurricane Sandy. He doesn't like other dogs and will bark at them like crazy hoping to keep them away. He's also jittery.

We were walking our dogs when the youngster caught sight of a pit bull pup. The pup was already 6" taller than him in every direction and my dog barked his head off at him. I pulled him away from the pit bull and his owners, another nice couple. But then the pit bull slipped his lease and bore down on my Yorkie. A dog fight ensued. I tried to separate the dogs. My wife grabbed my dogs leash. I tried grabbing a snapping snarling pit bull until the owner grabbed his leash.

I breathed a sigh of relief and then my dog tore out of his harness and attacked the pit bull. Round two. I finally grabbed his collar and some calm was restored and immediately examined him expecting him to be wounded in a half dozen spots (they were biting like mad.)

In RPG terms I had assumed the two dogs were engaging in lethal combat attempting to injure each other (lose hit points or whatever.) What I was actually watching, I figured out later, was social combat. My dog mouthed off at the pup. The pit bull wasn't taking that crap from a Yorkie and decided to slap him down. The pit bull failed. My dog not only stood his ground but escaped to initiate a second fight to prove that he'd do whatever the Hell he wanted.

This got me thinking. Risus has the exact mechanic for such an exchange (yes you can use Risus to play a small dog: The Anything Roleplaying Game. S. Jon doesn't lie) winner picks what happens to the loser. In this case the pu was trying to make my dog shut up and submit. My dog however won and decided he'd make the pup look like an idiot. It looked very real to me though. I, a mere human, didn't know better.

Maybe super hero and villain combat is like this. A lot of sound and fury (and eyeblasts) as they fight it out but not a lot of actual injury. After al they fight a lot. If they ran a real risk of injury more of them would be dead and I mean permanently. Maybe godly combat or wizard duels are also a form of social combat. All these uberpowerful types have a secret deal going. They don't hurt each other too badly. We mere mortal wouldn't know better. That'd explain why non-powered vigilantes can hold out against people who can juggle the five boroughs of New York City. The super types can't just flatten them. There are rules. Similarly the Scarlet Speed Demon can't simply strio his foes naked and leave them cuffed to a lamp post. He is required to give them a shot at him. It's good form.

This also explains why certain anti-heroes like the Punisher are so reviled. He does not follow these rules of restraint. Everyone is on his back. Anyway GMs with a supers or other setting with wild powers might want to consider having such rules. They can also lead to a decrease  in character mortality.