Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dead Calm In the Icy Shores

After restricting the Terrans (at least initially) to ships with Jump-1 and house ruling that fuel use is quadruple I found that a number of interesting and sun like stars were out of range. Not to be outdone by mere nature I decided to posit an infra structure allowing humans to visit said stars.

First and foremost there is the canon solution of drop tanks. I don't think the construction of these pose problems to use now. The tricky part is to jettison them and get them far enough away from the ship before it jumps to insure the tank survives. That's one way to go 2 parsecs though it take you two jumps at present.

Another solution is a Jump Ring. A Jump Ring is a station in orbit beyond the hundred diameter limit and usually powered by several large fission or fusion plants. When a ship is ready to jump it moves to the center of the ring where lines or other transfer systems power up the jump drive of the ship. Again the ship has to move out and remove the power cables if any before jumping or it can be hard on the station and its crew.

Another method of going further is to super refine the fuel. Basically the latest advances (that will become standard at TL 10 or so allows a ship's drive to decrease fuel use by 33 to 50%. Feel free to mix and match the methods to your heart's content. Your players certainly will.

Eventually better fuels and better drives will allow Terrans to use Jump-2 and Jump-3. The final limit being that of the computers and software. Earth's ability to interfere with her colonies will become greater and greater. Isn't progress wonderful?

As these technologies become more widespread the premise of using rogue planets and comets for fueling stations naturally breaks down. Unless of course the fringe worlds have anther resource that Earth needs.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Danger Humans!

A trend in many older roleplaying games that has been reversed is seeing humans as the default species: no special powers or abilities of course. After all other people don't look like anything special do they? The accuracy of that portrayal is up to debate until we meet other intelligent lives or discover elves and dwarves exist.

Recently games such as (A)D&D have tried to address this by letting humans start out with extra skills or feats (not feet) to balance the natural abilities of elves and dwarves (detecting secret doors is obviously evolutionary gold in a world of dungeons, monsters and tombs.) Otherwise who'd take a human? Previously they merely capped the experience level these long lived, intelligent, and resourceful beings could attain.

A lot of people have remarked on our warlike tendencies and assume that when we do reach the stars our combination of warrior heritage and engineering Masters will make us a potent force. I don't buy it. There are no soft targets among those who play evolution's game. Even if you assume a race has evolved beyond the need for chronic confrontations and violence they'd have had to develop ways to deal with those who did not evolve in their own populations and with external threats.

Looking at humans and our place in nature we have one physical attribute that makes us scary: we don't give up. When we hunt prey we will follow it until one of us dies. We pursue relentlessly. In the past primitive humans harried gigantic beasts to death using only spears and their feet. We display this persistence in many of our endeavors.

Earth has an oxygen atmosphere. The proportion of oxygen might be an important issue in colonizing other planets. We are used to an atmosphere containing 21% O2. We can survive in an atmosphere of 17.5% and probably extend this with meds, compressor masks and what have you. What I was thinking was that oxygen is a very corrosive element that, even though vital savages our bodies over our entire lives. Look at Michael Jackson's odd sleeping arrangements for more on this. What if aliens are just not able to take in atmospheres with such a high concentration of oxygen without severe and short term health issues? We might have a wide swath of Earth-like worlds left behind for us to grab. If oxygen breathers are a minority we really score!

Being able to absorb all this oxygen would also mean we are relatively fast and energetic compared to life evolved in low O2 atmospheres.

While I'm on the subject of breathing humans can hold their breath longer than any other terrestrial mammal. Make of that what you will. It might mean we have a longer period of useful consciousness after our ship or spacesuit gets holed than other beings.

Another edge we might have is in microbiology. H. G. Wells was the first to bring up the subject of native microbes being lethal to offworlders who have no resistance. Many believe that the ecologies of alien worlds might be incompatible. We can't eat them, they can't infect or eat us. Assuming a middle ground: we can eat some stuff etc. our microbiology is pretty ancient. Moore's Law (see http://twilightgm.blogspot.com/2014/06/hiding-in-plain-sight.html) predicts life evolved 10 billion years ago meaning either we underwent a spate of sudden evolution spikes or our slimy ancestors came from somewhere else. Either way the microbes here might be a very dangerous lot and we concurrently evolved to deal with them. So in game terms we would have fantastic immune systems and might be able to eat darn near anything compared to most life. Note that if life did come from somewhere else then exoplanets might have similar biologies to Earth's assuming the microbes or whatever from the original planet were dispersed to more than one world.

Finally please check out this PSA from the Galactic Safety Council: 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Everything You Could Want to Go Wrong

A technique for gm'ing presented by the man himself, S.John Ross is to send a group off and make a list of everything that can go wrong on a journey. Of course Marc W. Miller's Classic Traveller is famed for its use of checklists. So let's see what we get mashing the two together.
Complications in red.

I. Arrive in star system.
A rough jump transition damaged machinery or caused illness of an influential passenger.
A. Scan area for potential danger, problems, and other data.
The scanners malfunction. 
A spacewalk is required to fix it. 
Someone is scanning you while you're essentially blind.
You discover potential danger and other problems.
You scan someone who doesn't want to BE scanned.
B. Set course insystem.
Debris or another hazard requires you to divert and lose time.
You don't see the debris in time (see (A).)
C. Possible ship encounter.
Actual ship encounter.
II. Local gas giant.
A. Achieve orbit.
Electromagnetic flux, uncharted bodies or navigation error places your ship in a dangerous orbit
B. Refuel.
Okay refueling entails diving into a gas giant's atmosphere and scooping up hydrogen at ramjet speeds. Do I have to spell it out for you? Cyclone winds, electrical storms, native life evolved to withstand same, updrafts sending allotropic carbon (diamonds!) from the deep core, temperature and pressure extremes if you go too low. Contaminated fuel messes up your processors or engines causing the ship to descend uncontrollably.
C. Set course to major world
or outsystem.
I I I. Local major world.
A. Achieve orbit.
See I A & I B. 
B. Proceed to orbital starport
(unstreamlined ships) or surface starport
(streamlined ships).
Safety inspection.
C. Arrival onplanet.
1. Unload high passengers.
You lost someone's luggage/pet/robot/child/robot child.
You drop someone's luggage.
A passenger's check bounced.
2. Unload mail.
Where's the mail?
3. Unload middle passengers.
See III C.
4. Unload cargo.
Cargo lot # 31 is stolen.
Cargo lot #17 is lost.
Cargo lot #22 eats lot #17.
Cargo lot #3 was switched for a load of bricks at previous port of call (always good for a laugh!)
Recipients of lot #3 do not appreciate being shown a load of bricks and a lame story.
Highly illegal cargo lot #61 breaks open on unloading (hey what happened to our load of bricks?)
Load of highly explosive/corrosive/disgusting cargo breaks open.
Load of bricks is dropped on someone's foot.
5. Unload low passengers.
Low passenger switched for load of bricks.
6. Conclude low lottery.
Lottery was rigged.
Load of bricks wins lottery. Ticket holders riot.
D. Refit and maintenance.
1. Refuel from starport.
Fuel spill.
Overcharged for fuel.
Sold tainted fuel.
2. Renew ship life support.
Malfunction. Your life support has to be sent to the shop for repairs.
E. Commodity activity.
1. Sell speculative cargo.
2. Buy speculative cargo.
Bottom falls out of brick market.
Do you really need me to think of what can go wrong on commodity trading?
F. Ship business.
1. Pay berthing costs.
Fund transfer fails.
Crewman running a check to the Port Authority gets hit in the head and robbed (with a brick obviously.)
2. Pay bank payment.
See III F 1.
3. Pay maintenance fund.
See III F 1.
4. Pay crew salaries.
See III F 1.
G. Miscellaneous activity.
1. Patron encounters.
Patron is a liar, thief or cheat.
Patron expects honest work for his salary.
2. Planetary exploration.
You find something interesting or worse yet: an anomaly.
3. Local areas of interest.
Crew members set lose on local establishments with a pocket full of credits.
Crew members run out of credits.
Crew men pursued by creditors.
4. Hire new crew members.
H. Prepare for departure.
Creditors appear as if by fiat!
1. Load cargo.
Cargo lot # 31 is stolen.
Cargo lot #17 is lost.
Cargo lot #22 eats lot #17.
Cargo lot #3 is being switched for a load of bricks!
Highly illegal cargo lot #61 breaks open on unloading (hey what happened to our load of bricks?)
Load of highly explosive/corrosive/disgusting cargo breaks open.
Load of bricks is dropped on senior port official's vehicle .
2. Load low passengers.
Low passenger breaks on freezing.
3. Load middle passengers.
You lost someone's luggage/pet/robot/child/robot child.
You drop someone's luggage.
4. Load high passengers.
See III H 3. Only the passenger wronged is a lawyer.
5. Load mail.
Mail refuses to be loaded. Optionally mail is eaten or nested in by Lot #22.
6. Collect income for all
aspects of current trip.
Good luck.
IV. Departure.
A. Lift-off.
Ship doesn't lift. Discard excess bricks!
B. Achieve orbit.
Discard excess bricks!!
C. Set course outsystem.
Collision with ceramic rectangular prisms imminent!
D. Possible ship encounter.
It's a trap.

E. Jump.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The High Cost of Justice

The premise is simple: there's a process or substance that grants superhuman abilities. The catch is the abilities are not permanent. You need a regular supply of the stuff. If it involves gadgets then they break down or burn out or run out of whatever exotic fuel they use.

Fortunately you have a supplier who wishes to remain unknown. Everyday you receive your new dose/batteries etc in the mail or at a pick up point. There seems to be no permanent side effects from this. What you do with the power is up to you.

Choice Number 1: You use the power to embark on a one man crime wave.

Result: The supply stops. Period. In fact you might just run out of juice a few hours early when you are flying across town or lifting a ten ton safe if you go for such activities.

Choice Number 2: You decide to use the power for you own benefit, not necessarily robbing or looting but giving yourself an edge. You go to Las Vegas to clean up or enter professional sports etc.

Result: The supply stops. Period. You probably aren't flying or throwing cars around when it wears off. You didn't make any rivals or enemies while you were an overnight sensation did you? Those you keep.

Choice Number 3: You use the power to make the world a better place. Maybe you wreak havoc on the forces of evil (spandex and mask optional.) Maybe you low key it and work your miracles in street clothes. The styles vary.

Result: The supply continues. In fact you may get more potent powers over time as the supplier feels they can trust you. The status quo is maintained for a while. Then the supplier informs you that for the arrangement to continue you have to commit a crime. Something little like stealing a car say. If you refuse the supply stops and you go back to a life of quiet desperation. Every time a disaster or crime occurs that you could have stopped you die a little inside.

If you agree to performing the task (it's only a car c'mon) the supply continues and may even be increased. Then a few days or weeks later the supplier wants you to do something else.

The crimes continue increasing in severity. Robbery, assault, battery, and finally murder. the question is at what point do you call it quits? Or do you descend into denial and rationalizing to justify the crimes you commit in the name of justice?

The edge doesn't have to be super powers per se. In Traveller a suit of high tech battledress with a grav belt might make you a super human effectively on a low tech world. Bullets would bounce off you. You could fly but you might not be able to recharge it or activate it without a password that changes everyday.

For added paranoia have several people in the same situation meet up and form a team. Perhaps a world of supers all have this origin and all preform darks deeds at times never suspecting they are not unique.

Who the supplier is  and their goals is up to the individual game master. Maybe it's a test and refusing to commit a crime results in a new supply of upgraded powers after a few weeks. The supply was looking for a truly worthy soul.

Maybe the process does have long term effects: mental instability and suggestibility and the suppliers is running a huge experiment to refine the procedures.

Maybe it's all a sick and twisted game. See how far you can get a person to go to remain superhuman. Last person whose hero goes psycho wins a coke.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tricking Out Traveller

My love for Classic Traveller is based on how easy it is to stick whatever you want in. Bend the system whatever way you want it is very hard to break. For my money you don't even have to stick with communication is limited to speed of travel. That would only mess you up if you used the Third Imperium setting. The 3I is not necessarily Classic Traveller. It doesn't even get a mention till the fourth book and even then it got a mention in one paragraph (I think.)

So a titling a list as 'Things They Left Out of CT' would be presumptuous and out of the 'do it your own damn self' spirit of the Old School. So here's a list of things I would like to add to CT for my game. Please note they heavily favor a space pirate theme for some reason.

1) Laser pistol: the laser carbine and rifle are near and dear to my heart as they both scream SF! However they can be a pain at times. How do you use them when you're wearing a back pack? Similarly sometimes you want a hand free and a weapon that says 'SF' in no uncertain terms. In fairness Loren Wiseman addressed this tweak quite eloquently in Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society (JTAS) #2. Thank you Mr. Wiseman.

2) Robots: robots, Robots, ROBOTS! I can see why they were left out of the core LBBs. This is my one major peeve with GDW. They took 6 more core books to address them and the book had its share of contradictions, was overly complex and the 'bots were kind of boring. They needed a little more fiction than science in them. After all SF had already given us Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet (yeah I know alien tech but still.) Please note the crew in Forbidden Planet also had energy weapons for sidearms (see above.) I want robots with a little personality. is a robotic parrot too much to ask for? Note Robots were addressed in JTAS #2-4 by Marc W. Miller and Loren Wiseman. Like all good things Traveller you are left to fill in the details and color yourself.

3) Grapple guns: okay we have these now though they are kind of clunky. I'd like to see something more like Batman's gear. Note I said 'grapple' gun and mean it. A magnet on a line is just weak and some wiseass on the other ship  might just degauss the ship's hull. A grapple gun would be excellent for crossing between ships in space, getting control of your actions in zero-gee and a thousand other actions that will have the player saying things like, "I have to roll WHAT? I just wanted to swing across the staging area while blazing away at the guards with my laser pistol while my trusty robot sidekick deactivates the defense systems." Okay they handled 'grapnel' guns in Challenge #38 by Robert Sprinkle. I don't have that issue, yet.

4) Uplifted apes: primates make everything better. Also monkeys and pirates go together. Just keep them away from the robots. I couldn't find anything about apes in Traveller although they do reference uplifted dolphins. Blue Max Studios does Ships of the Black Desert, a highly technical epic series set in a near future solar system that uses uplifted simians for crew. Also see Encounter Critical by S. John Ross for 'Planetary Apes' and real science!

5) Reaction drives: M-drives are indispensable for long distance space travel. They suck for threatening other ships. See the previous post on space piracy. There have to be some reaction drives left out there. Of course the authorities will likely take a dim view of private citizens torching the landscape and other ships. Pirates don't care. Please check out Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets webpage (http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/). He presents info on reaction drives better than I cold in a hundred years.

6) Cybernetics: believe it or not there is a place for eyepatches even among space travelers. Mythbusters showed that placing a patch over one eye preserves your night vision. If you are suddenly plunged into darkness just whisk off the eyepatch to see the defense robot coming at you. Of course you can't just chuck the patch in a space helmet. Much better to have an artificial eye with an integral thermal sight. You can even look really cool posing with your robot parrot and simian bosun. You're all in one piece? Keep attacking merchant shipping ...

Please note that this blog does not condone space piracy. It does condone giving space pirates cool stuff for your player characters to loot.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Life and Death in the Icy Shores

So once more some notes on Traveller: The Icy Shores. I always had some problems with the idea of piracy in Traveller. It's just strange to pile into a ship cruise over to another ship that is probably as fast as yours and shoot it up to plunder cargo ... leaving a multi-million dollar ship behind or taking it and offing the crew and proving you are a sociopath worth the Navy's bother to hunt down and blow out of the stars. Not to mention in most settings the prey probably has missiles or lasers capable of shooting hell out of your ship.

Quite apart from how hard the pirate is to catch it's just not a cost effective return.

Mind you I do not have a problem with piracy itself. I'd just practice it differently. There are ways to bring the effort and cost down.

Hijacking is one way. Get one of your people onboard the ship, have them hack the computer or otherwise raise merry hell to keep the ship immobile and helpless long enough for you to board. If you manage to get enough people onboard the ship you might even have a boarding action.

Sabotage is another. Stick something onboard the ship to disable it or occupy the crew: emp, incendiary, spambots, combat bots etc. Sticking a virus in a ship's computer falls under sabotage as well. Having a man performing maintenance in the starport will really pay for itself in this and many other piracy campaigns.

Raiding is a different tack entirely. Instead of going after a ship you go after a settlement or station. The target is immobile and can't run making disabling it an order easier. Unfortunately worthwhile targets are usually well defended making it imperative you take the weapons offline first! On the plus side it's probably easier to infiltrate a large number of hijackers and saboteurs on such a targets.

Note the three methods can and will be combined by savvy pirates. Infiltrate hijackers on a station, pop a logic bomb in its computers and grab that choice ship you want that is docked!

I'm inclined to prohibit most non-military ships from carrying conventional weapons like lasers and missiles. This includes the pirates who have to make do with whatever they can scrounge or improvise. Conventional space combat should be rare as it leads to generating a lot of new characters. Making piracy a game of sabotage and subterfuge can lead to more roleplaying opportunities IMO.

I know people will find ways to build or improvise weapons. A lot of the technology in space travel will be inherently dangerous (mining lasers, mass drivers, rocket boosters, nano.) But again tricking out your ship becomes more a matter of skill and roleplaying than plunking down the credits. Also note that you would need software to make attacks hit at long ranges. Which means using subterfuge again, getting close, or pirating software.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stepping Out of Your Tech Level

A long time ago I was an art major. Life happened and then I was a teacher (not eating will do that to your career plans. Recently I began drawing again. Only I jumped from Tech 1 (paper, pencil) to Tech 8 (iPad!)

Making a tech jump like that is a bitch. I really don't know how these science officers on tv shows back engineer fantastic xeno tech AND wind up using it like experts.

Let me say drawing on a tablet is quite fun. In fact I have several drawing apps. I use different apps for different kinds of drawings. The app with object based drawing is great for drawing things like deck plans. Draw a console and save it. Then clone fifty for the bridge of your star juggernaut. The other apps have different brushes and amenities that may apply to am image I'm trying to do.

But I'm not an expert. Transferring images between the apps is still giving me fits. But there's a more telling issue of control. The tablet and the stylus are too damned slippery. The control is not as easy as a sharp pointed pencil. I'm sure I'll get used to it. The benefits certainly make learning more worthwhile.

But what I'm taking away from this is having high tech goodies dumped in a character's lap is not always a good thing. If your man is used to a bolt action rifle handing him a pulse rifle may not be a good idea leading to sprays of uncontrolled automatic fire, shot up cooling pipes and reactor going critical. A laser rifle might be more problematical. Dies he know not to look when he pulls the trigger or at least wear those funny goggles. Will he flinch when the anticipated kick doesn't come? Does it even feel right in his hands or too light (no pun intended) and balanced oddly?

Referees in Traveller may impose a negative modifier for using equipment of a higher or lower level than you are used to. Probably the worst case scenario is using computers (where does the holo cube go? There's just this stupid slot!) But remember computers control a great many things at higher tech levels. There's really no had and fast rule for minuses. It depends on the sort of setting you want to run -1 per level of difference works. You might add another -1 for big breakthroughs. An aviator from a TL 6 world could fly a TL 7 plane at -1. He could fly a TL 8 air/raft at -3 (-2 for TL difference and -1 because gravity control is a big step away from props and turbines.) As he works with the air/raft he will reduce the negative and eventually use his full skill level. The referee may award him air/raft-0.

In Risus terms you might give higher TNs for people working outside their Tech Level. A high tech piece of exceptional equipment might not work as effectively at first as it will when the user gets some experience with it. If you were using Risus for Traveller (look it up on Risusiverse: Travelling Heavy) our air/raft allow the TL 6 aviator to fly but he'd have his cliche halved for not having his usual tools (no props!) As he learns the ins and outs  he'll find the air/raft adds one, two or more dice for team up situations.

I thimk my mod is down to -2 rightnow

Monday, July 14, 2014

Socket to Me!

Sometimes I write about my experiences and what I take away from them and bring to the table. Other times I'm scrambling for content I think others would find interesting. This in itself is much of my gaming style. Sometimes I'm working on developing my character and finding his place in the grand story and other times I'm looking for loot and shiny things.

Last week was my first week really off work and relaxing and quite enjoyable with no life lessons so prepare for loot!

We've all been there in Traveller and hell any game where you have the means to purchase a (heavily financed) ship. You finally get your beautiful chariot of the gods! Except, in order to afford it you had to leave some things out: namely weapons! Weapons eat up the credits fast. This is compounded in Classic  Traveller where you also require a decent computer to run the (also) expensive software that lets you hit stuff with the damned things. Software also does not fall under ship financing agreements as banks take a notably dim view of sticking ordinance on something they intend to repossess one day. Ordinance means you're looking for stuff to shoot at and it often entails you being shot at. In addition some settings don't allow civilian ships to go around armed (like an unarmed ship does less damage flying into a colony at half the speed of light but I digress.)

Anyway you're left with hardpoints for later use that do nothing. Doing nothing on a merchant ship is uneconomical and on a Scout ship just inefficient. Here we have a socket, the equivalent of a one ton USB (Universal Structural Bearing?) port. What other uses can we find for it? All the following fittings naturally weigh one ton and fit most if not all turrets. They can be found at all class A starports, at B starports on a +7 and at C starports on a +9. Installing a new fitting takes 4-6 days and 1000 cr. unless you have crew to do it (Go ahead, we're just going to watch from a safe distance cheapskate!)

Cupola- 10 Kcr. The cupola seats one (or two if you want to get cozy.) It affords a lovely view of whatever you're flying by. It's an attractive feature for high and middle passengers and might add to your rolls for picking up passengers. It's also a look out when you've landed.

Running Bridge- 100 Kcr. The running bridge is like the cupola with the addition of a pilot console and terminal. Pilots using it to dock and make other tricky maneuvers receive a +1 at the referee's discretion.

Sensor Array- 200 Kcr. The sensor array or 'eyeball' increases the range and sensitivity of a ship's scanning. Ranges increase by 25% and the operator receives a +1 to sensor or commo skill. In order to activate it the array must unfold making the ship unstreamlined. Unfolding or folding the array takes one combat round.

Salvage Pod- 150 Kcr. This 'scrapper' pod mounts a small cutting laser. it's too short ranged and inaccurate for combat unless you're dealing with lunatics trying to board you using vacc suits. The scrapper also has a heavy manipulator arm that can lift up to a ton in a 1-g field. The operator sits inside the pod which has a decent field of view.

Express Pod- 60 Kcr. The 'expod' is a small enclosed air/raft, useful for making transfers between ships or short ranged scouting. The 'expo' can't make orbit on its own, though it could descend. It has a pressure tight door but not an airlock. It holds one or two (cramped) people. A 100 Kcr. version has remote control features and is often used to transfer mail between ships quickly and easily.

Solar Power Array- 100 Kcr. The 'sunflower' allows a ship to extend its operating time between refueling. The array will power the ship with the exception of gravitics almost indefinitely. Using high power scans, grav plates and maneuver drives is not allowed in solar mode. A ship needs one array per 500 tons.

Ball Bot- 20 Kcr. The socket has been turned into a berth for a one tonne robot (usually) used for maintenance and repairs. The robot must be purchased separately. Ball bots have often provided a nasty surprise for pirates. Imagine attempting to board an unarmed merchant and suddenly being confronted by a metal behemoth with all manner of torches, saws and pincers attacking anything sticking out of your ship (like your boarding party!)

Low Ball- 100 Kcr. Low balls hold two low berths. What the heck, it's 4000 cr. more a month.

Numerous other jury rigged pods exist out there. Some have been turned into lifeboats. Others were used in very ingenious or illegal ways. The captain of the 'Busted Flush' put together a chaff bomb. When he was confronted by pirates he jettisoned the pod and blew it up by remote control blinding the pirate ship momentarily and allowing his ship to escape. Similarly the crew of the corsair 'Viral Hologram' sacrificed their ball bot, having the behemoth ram a patrol cruiser while carrying a dozen explosive charges. The bot struck the bridge and disabled the cruiser allowing the pirate to run for it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Art of Being Super

I had the pleasure of attending a show by Penn and Teller once. Part of the show involved Teller having his body separated into several boxes. Each part seeming to remain separate and still interact with Pen who was disassembling his partner. That was impressive enough but then they showed you who Teller did it, exiting the stack of boxes through a trapdoor in the stage and crawling on his back between each box to stick his head, foot and foot through to create the illusion. Here, watch it:


Really Teller's level of dexterity and flexibility is amazing. Not oh gee lookie that amazing. Scary amazing. 

A few years later I'm in an rp playing Wildcat, an aged and ageless super hero who started in the 40's and was essentially a buff guy in a cat suit. Doesn't sound like a super hero. People argue whether Batman should be called a super hero because he doesn't 'do' anything. Wildcat doesn't even have a utility belt or stellar reasoning ability.


Recently in character Wildcat explained to a younger hero starting out (also no super abilties - one of Bruce's interns) that indeed they were super heroes. His reasoning? He defined a super power as when you can do something that most other people can't. 


Doing backflips and pounding the snot out of people from mid-air definitely is the kind of skill I had in mind. So does Batman's trick of knowing where you're going to look, moving slightly out of vision and then moving back when you look somewhere else and a few thousand other tricks he mastered when must teen boys were playing video games and indulging in autoerotic activities.

The lesson can be applied to most rpgs games. Of course having gear a few tech levels beyond the locals is a sort of super power all its own but even if locals get your gear will they kjnow how to use it? 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Back to School

I was pondering CT generation and how to give people a couple more skills without resorting to Mercenary style CG. Here's a quick post on what I have:

University: Characters may attend college upon mustering out. It's assumed the service gives them a loan and in return they forego one mustering out roll.
Enrollment: +8
DM +1 if Int +8
DM +2 if Edu +8

University lasts four years and imparts one skill from the Advanced or Advanced Education Table of the service. Note the character chooses the skill he wants.

Honors allows a second skill to be chosen. Optionally +1 Edu or Int may be taken instead of a skill.
Honors 7+
DM +1 if Int +8
DM +2 if Edu +10

Really mean refs can give the character a survival roll. Failure means the character is not dead per se but thrown out for whatever reason you can think of or just doesn't make it academically.
 Survival +4
DM +1 if Int +8
DM +2 if Edu +10

Monday, July 7, 2014

No Substitutes For Experience

There are two benefits for a player character in most rps: money and power. Money is pretty self explanatory. You use it to get stuff in the equipment manual or ale and whores or whatever.

Power can cover a variety of categories but the catch all I use is it makes the character harder to mess with. It could be an alliance with an organized crime lord, a new set of armor that makes you harder to hurt or experience that improves your abilities. Improving your abilities is the most sought for quantity in most games I've played in because quite frankly, I as the gm don't take them away from my characters (99% true.) Equipment can be dropped, money can be stolen but if you're an expert with an auto pistol then you are an expert. Though I suppose the pistol can be stolen, all you need is to get your hands on another one.

The beauty of a game like Risus or Classic Traveller, my current favorites, is the simplicity of their systems yet those very systems also have a certain granularity to them. CT uses a 2d6 throw for most actions and a +1 there is a big deal. Risus uses dice pools of 1-6 d6 usually. An extra die is a big deal there as well; +3.5 towards success plus a big difference in combat situations.

One way to modify Risus (which I've shied away from) is to increase cliches by +1 at a time (not +1d6.) You could have up to +2 and the next increase would bump the cliche up a whole die. Thus 1d6, 1d6 + 1, 1d6 +2, 2d6. You could even do this in particularly important combats (which you don't mind dragging out.) First hit reduces 3d6 to 2d6 +2. This could also soften the Risus Death spiral. I wouldn't recommend it for team combat.

Another way of refining experience could be giving Quest Dice that specifically refer to what you did to earn the experience. Thus Hypertrophied Man might get one or more Questing dice in smashing giant robots because of his numerous battles with Major Mayhem's bots. When he gets 5 Questing dice he can convert them to a +1d6 for Strength or whatever his cliche is called. Lucky shots are another way of working this, you earn a Lucky Shot each time you increase in experience (maybe one die per adventure or roll against your highest cliche normally) and convert every three dice into a +1d6 for a cliche. Or keep a ton of Lucky Shots on hand.

Classic Traveller already has an experience system but many people are not thrilled with it. You basically make a determination roll to stick to your training and get one skill level or +1 to stat per four year cost. At the very least I'd advocate letting characters train in two skills simultaneously as they can gain 2 skills per term during generation.

Two years between skill increases is a little dragging though. Some refs might want to placate their players in the meantime by handing out 0-level skills. A 0-level skill can be very handy in some skills with a high negative dm for unskilled use such as Vacc Suit or Zero-G. You might want to restrict this to skills that don't require advanced training. For example it is doubtful you could pick up Pilot-0 just by watching a pilot or looking at online videos. Getting such advanced skills might also be restricted based on your current skills. For example, a trained pilot might pick up Ship's Boat-0 if he spends a lot of time on a shuttle.

A character could pick up a 0 level skill in 2d6 months if the situation warrants without a determination roll.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Blast From the Past

The first game I ever bought was Metamorphosis Alpha. My group already had a guy running D&D. I had borrowed his books but I wasn't very good at it to judge from the reaction. I was also more into SF. MA didn't click with me either though I ran a couple of one shots. I found it way too bizarre given my tastes at the time ran Asimov, Niven and Clarke. Then I bought three little black books that changed my rping forever.

Traveller spoke to me, the wanna be SF writer. While Metamorphosis Alpha was a closed Universe aboard a gigantic, incomprehensible and dying starship, Traveller gave you the Galaxy. In fat it gave you so much in its simple elegance I had no idea what to do with it. My friends and I wasted many sessions playing murder hobos on a Scout. When the Journal of the Travellers Aid Society came out I devoured each issue trying to get a grasp of the system and gming and I never quite got it.

Many years later and most of my paper Traveller books are now gone and replaced by pdfs. Many of the articles I read are on my laptop in pdf form. Lately I've gone back and reread many of these articles.

At first I thought I would read them to get ideas for a new campaign I'd hopefully run on Hangouts. I jotted a bunch of stats and ideas. Then I realized what I was really looking at was how these writers and designers made the system their own. I didn't want to do things their way. I wanted to innovate or deviate from RAW on my own. Mind you I am using the Laser Pistol from JTAS as written. I liked it even back then.

In keeping with my previous blogs I'm going to use the existing rules as much as possible. Keeping close to the RAW makes your variants easier to remember. So rather than make up a bunch of new rules for, say, non-lethal weapons I'll just tweak the first blood and wound allocation. A non-lethal weapon will only ever reduce one stat. A tear gas grenade will only reduce Dexterity for example. A taser will reduce Strength etc. tranquilizer rounds will reduce Endurance etc. My really big tweak already came with the TLs. Sorry if this is anticlimactic.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Am I My Brother's Maker?

I've run right up against the central tenet of Classic Traveller; which I'm loving more and more as I work with it. CT doesn't even pretend to be able to cover everything. Now if T5 is the equivalent of Ikea, then CT was Home Depot. You built your furnishings from scratch.

I'm trying to introduce androids into the Icy Shores setting and there is nearly nothing to go on in the LBBs or JTAS my primary resources. From the JTAS I get that androids are synthetic but biological beings. I fudged the TLs for robotics already. I won't hesitate to do it again for some cool androids.

Androids have many of the advantages of transplanted human stock story wise. They can be alien but ultimately comprehensible. You don't have to worry about making them too human and of course there is common ground for interaction. I doubt we'd have much to talk about with sentient plasma balls for example.

My Setting:
While modifying human DNA (except to cure genetic disorders), is illegal, immoral, and frowned upon in Terran society several corporations found a way around those pesky government regs. Chimpanzees were genetically speaking very close to humans and provided a template for generating synthetic chromosomes. Computers tweaked the DNA further to arrive at humanoids that were functionally human (and didn't have such rude behavior as poo flinging.) Truthfully they used the chimp DNA to import a number of synthetic genes that were basically tweaked human material.

These near humans were engineered for greater strength and endurance than humans and less intelligence. In a number of ways they were disabled compared to natural humans. For one thing their DNA was truncated removing many of the 'junk' chromosomes. this rendered them more susceptible to radiation damage but they were easier to produce. Their dispositions, after a lot of trial and error, tended to passivity. They took orders well but had little initiative. In most cases this was overcome with intensive training for whatever special situations they might encounter in their occupations.

Androids did have sexual dimorphism but could not reproduce (why have your product give away copies?) In fact they were engineered for zero sex drive and could apply themselves almost entirely to their chosen profession. Many but not all androids had recognition handles: hairlessness, skin markings and coloration, and odd facial features to further dehumanize them and make their status immediately apparent.

Androids generally eat a highly processed food paste due to limited digestion systems (another way to save money.) Eating normal rations can result in nausea or worse. Some androids do adopt to normal food over time.

Needless to say, none of this worked.

Some androids were not passive and intelligent enough to hide the fact. Some androids entered into close relations with their human owners becoming the equivalent of children or companions. Some apparently were able to love. I'm not going to go into love androids. You could probably write a neat game supplement about them but I have a few standards left.

Some androids ran away and went feral so to speak, attempting to like away from human oppression.

A few brand name synthetics follow:
Charon Doppelgangers
CDs are hairless and androgynous. They are regarded as the most intelligent brand of androids. Quite a few people regard them suspiciously and their export is restricted. Owners must have special licenses and undergo training to cope with such models. Many owners disguise their androids to appear human. Oddly the CD models are the most detached and unemotional but this doesn't stop their owners from forming closer bonds with them.

Lagrange Revenants
The Revenants are distinguished by their slightly larger size and a number of hexagon tattoos in strategic places (cheek, back of hands, back of neck.) A few of them have displayed biological urges thought removed. Some are gluttonous or smoke for example (I said I was writing about love androids. Do it yourself.) Revenants are well suited for physical labor and are said to have more personality than most androids.

Lethe Industries Comrades
Comrades are the most high tech androids to date. A unique modification to their brains and several integral cybernetic implants allow their users to blank their memories for anywhere from a few minutes to an entire day. A memory wipe usually causes the android to fall unconscious for several hours and is better done during their sleep cycle. Comrades are usually distinguished by glow tattoos in a variety of shapes and colors.

Crowd Source Inc.
Crowd Source produces the highest numbers of androids in human space. Their 'Crowders' are relatively cheap and can subsist on ordinary food for a few days without illness. They are the most sociable of androids and work well in groups. Crowders are distinguished by their silver eyes. They are also designed to like sleeping or meditation when not working allowing them to forego the space requirements humans need to stay sane.

Model                                    Avg. UPP          Random
Charon Doppelganger           688874              STR/END 2d-1 DEX 2d+1 INT 2d+1 EDU 2d-1 SOC 1d6
Special Abilities: Near total recall. Restricted diet.

Lagrange Revenant               999442              STR/END 2d+2 INT/EDU 1d  SOC 1d3
Special Abilities: Immune to most tainted atmospheres, natural armor equivalent to mesh, does 1d+1 damage with hands. Restricted diet.

Lethe Comrade                     778662              STR/DEX/END 2d INT 1d EDU 2d-1 SO 1d3
Special Abilities: Memory wipe ability, immune to most tainted atmospheres. Restricted diet.

Lagrange Revenant               999444              STR/DEX/END 2d+2 INT/EDU 1d SOC 1d6
Special Abilities: Immune to most tainted atmospheres.

Generally androids have one skill assigned per point of education. Medics working on androids receive  a +1 DM as they are more robust than baseline humans. Androids are created about age 18. They show no signs of aging until they reach '30' when they roll with -2 dm on the aging tables. An android encountered will be age 18+3d6 years old. PC Androids can be run through character generation normally and receive a +1 to survival rolls. An android will cost 1000 cr x  (STR + DEX +END) + 2000 cr. x (IN + EDU). Memory wipe ability adds 10,000 cr. Other abilities add 1000-3000 cr. Androids over 24 are discounted 25% or more. Social Standing is free.

Androids must throw 10+ to avoid a direct order (less clear instructions drop the throw to 8+, 6+ or less) DMs: +Admin, +1 if Intelligence 8+, +1 if age 34 or more.

The Law
Androids have no rights to express themselves or own property. Contrary to popular belief owners must still take reasonable precautions to keep their androids safe. Ordering an android into a potentially lethal situation is only legal if it is to protect human life.  Note that fear and conditioning prevent androids from reporting their owners in most cases and some police don't take anything an android says seriously.

Owners are responsible for their android's actions and any law breaking by an android must be proven to be a matter of malfunction and not following orders.

If androids get enough money or their owners feel magnanimous they can buy or earn their freedom. Most laws are unclear in this regard though the  androids can now own property.

Defective Androids
Despite all the modifications and training that goes into them androids are still living creatures (in all but the legal sense anyway.) Particular attention is paid to an android's obedience. Every android has a quarterly Self Control Report (Secon.) This lists any acts of disobedience or expression. Androids with a lousy Secon typically act out in other ways (graffiti, kleptomania, composing music, developing feelings. A bad Secon report can also lead to discounted merchandise, a bunch of wavers to sign, and adventure hooks.

Androids in Risus
Here are a few android cliches:
Soulless killer (fighting, shooting, stabbing, intimidating, showing not a bit of pity)
Soulless Poet (pondering, debating, psychology, being sympathetic, waxing poetic)
Built to last (surviving in any environment not immediately fatal, brawling, resisting acid/poison/disease)
Older model (negotiating with the masters, scrounging, leadership, spotting trouble, staying in the back)
Model with extras (seductive, tease, manipulation, distraction)
Right handroid (administrating, bossing other androids around, acting mostly human, being obsequious, keeping a schedule/ledger etc, knowing proper protocol, making a tool of an owner look good)